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Dublin Institute of Technology

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Doctoral Applied Arts

2014-10

Exploring the Philosophical Character of


Contemporary Art through a Post-Conceptual
Practice
Clodagh Emoe
Dublin Institute of Technology

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Emoe, C. (2014) Exploring the Philosophical Character of Contemporary Art through a Post-Conceptual Practice, Doctorol Thesis, Dublin
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EXPLORING THE PHILOSOPHICAL CHARACTER
OF CONTEMPORARY ART THROUGH A
POST-CONCEPTUAL PRACTICE

Clodagh Emoe, BA (NCAD), MA (UA London)

Submitted as candidate for PhD


Dublin Institute of Technology

Supervisors: Dr. Mick Wilson and Dr. Tim Stott


GradCAM

October 2014
ABSTRACT

This enquiry seeks to explore what philosopher and critic Peter Osborne identifies as the
philosophical character of contemporary art. The purpose of this enquiry is not to
resolve the ambiguous relationship between art and philosophy that he observes in
contemporary art, but to address the complex engagement between them in a focused
manner by examining how philosophy comes into play in my post-conceptual practice.

This enquiry emerges from and is orientated by an ongoing post-conceptual practice.


The central questions of the enquiry ask: What is the relationship between art and
philosophy in my post-conceptual practice? How might my artworks raise philosophical
ideas and thought? What is the nature of this thought?

The primary component of the research project consists of three specific event-based art
works: Gatherings (Transitory Encounters) (2008), Mystical Anarchism (2009-2012)
and Metaphysical Longings (2006 -). Through the development, enactment and critical
reflection on these works I explore how my practice provides a domain to engage with
philosophy and how the artworks that unfold out of this might implicate philosophical
ideas and engender thought. These works seek to enact an other space. I use the term
other space to articulate a temporary, experiential and/or symbolic space that differs
from the quotidian. I develop my understanding of the philosophical character of art by
exploring how philosophical ideas might be implicated in these works in an experiential
manner by considering how these works invite thought. Through the research project I
assert the proposition that the thinking raised by art is essentially affective.

Alain Badious inaesthetics provides a theoretical guide. Although inaesthetics defines a


reciprocal engagement between artistic practice and philosophical enquiry, the
correlation of these disciplines is described from the vantage point of the philosopher
and no examples from the area of contemporary art are provided within his thesis.
Rather than repeating the procedures associated with traditional modalities of aesthetics
that privilege the critic/philosopher, this research project provides a paradigm within
artistic practice to explore how philosophical meaning is implicated through the
development and enactment of artworks.

ii
DECLARATION

I certify that this thesis which I now submit for examination for the award of PhD is
entirely my own work and has not been taken from the work of others, save and to the
extent that such work has been cited and acknowledged within the text of my work.

This thesis was prepared according to the regulations for postgraduate study by research
of the Dublin Institute of Technology and has not been submitted in whole or in part for
another award in any other third level institution.

The work reported on in this thesis conforms to the principles and requirements of the
DIT's guidelines for ethics in research. DIT has permission to keep, lend or copy this
thesis in whole or in part, on condition that any such use of the material of the thesis be
duly acknowledged.

Signature __________________________________ Date _______________

iii
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I would like to extend my gratitude to my primary supervisor, Dr Mick Wilson, for his
invaluable insight, encouragement and guidance throughout the research project and my
second supervisor, Dr Tim Stott, for his relentless support and thoroughness in the final
stages of the project. I would also like to thank the GradCAM team, who include Dr
Elaine Sisson, Dr Lisa Godson, Martin Mc Cabe, Nollaig O Fionghaile and Aidan
McElwaine.

I would especially like to thank Simon Critchley for his willingness to collaborate on
the research project, along with my friends and fellow researchers at GradCAM, whose
expertise and generous spirit enabled me to realise the large-scale event-based art-works
that were essential to my fulfilling this enquiry; they are Edia Connole, Thomas Mc
Graw Lewis, John Buckley, Yvette Monahan, Sean Breithaupt, Simon Keating, Connell
Vaughan and John Sherwin

Finally, I would like to thank my fianc John Bird and my friends and family, especially
my sisters, Justine, Antoinette and Nicola, and my mother, Audrey Emoe, who provided
me with the encouragement and support to help me complete this project.

I dedicate this research project to my late father, Bob Emoe.

iv
TABLE OF CONTENTS

TABLE OF ILLUSTRATIONS ........................................................................................ 3

INTRODUCTION ............................................................................................................ 5

CHAPTER ONE: THE COMPLEX ENGAGEMENT BETWEEN CONTEMPORARY


ART AND PHILOSOPHY ............................................................................................. 15
1.0 Overview ............................................................................................................ 15
1.1 Aesthetics and the Engagement Between Art and Philosophy........................... 16
1.2 The Troubling of Aesthetics in Art Practice....................................................... 20
1.3 Contemporary Art as Post-Conceptual ............................................................... 27
1.4 Asserting the Condition of Thought in Contemporary Art ................................ 30
1.5 Summary ............................................................................................................ 37

CHAPTER TWO: THE ENTWINEMENT OF ART AND PHILOSOPHY IN A POST-


CONCEPTUAL PRACTICE .......................................................................................... 39
2.0 Overview ............................................................................................................ 39
2.1 The Clear Apprehension of Ones Own Limitations and Mapping Nihilion ..... 40
2.1.1 A Post-Conceptual Practice - An Entwinement of Art and Philosophy ...... 44
2.1.2 A Post-Conceptual Practice - Engaging With Liminality............................ 52
2.2 Metaphysical Longings ...................................................................................... 59
2.2.1 The Emergence of the Event as an Artistic Form ........................................ 62
2.2.2 Enacting Other Spaces ................................................................................. 70
2.3 Summary ............................................................................................................ 74

CHAPTER THREE: INAESTHETICS AND THE REVELATION OF THOUGHT ... 77


3.0 Overview ............................................................................................................ 77
3.1 Badious Event Novelty, The Possibility of Truths and Setting the Conditions
for New Regimes of Thought ...................................................................................... 79
3.1.1 Inaesthetics A New Relation of Philosophy to Art ................................... 84
3.2 Intraphilosophical Effect The Unnameable and Activating Thought.............. 89
3.2.1 Romantic Conceptualism A Poetic Treatment of Contemporary Art ....... 95
3.4 Summary .......................................................................................................... 108

1
CHAPTER FOUR: EXPLORING THE PHILOSOPHICAL CHARACTER OF ART
THROUGH ENACTMENT.......................................................................................... 110
4.0 Overview .......................................................................................................... 110
4.1 The Research Project Three Artworks as Events ......................................... 111
4.1.1 Gatherings (Transitory Encounters)........................................................... 118
4.1.2 Mystical Anarchism ................................................................................... 120
4.1.3 Metaphysical Longings .............................................................................. 127
4.2 The Research Project Entwining Art and Philosophy Through Enactment .. 133
4.3 Enacting Other Spaces Staging and Mirroring the Tri-Partite Structure of
Ritual ......................................................................................................................... 141
4.4 The Artwork as an Open-Process - Inviting Thought and Affective Thought . 148
4.5 Summary .......................................................................................................... 152

CONCLUSION ............................................................................................................. 154

BIBLIOGRAPHY ......................................................................................................... 166

LIST OF PUBLICATIONS .......................................................................................... 177

APPENDICES .............................................................................................................. 178


APPENDIX I: UN COUP DE DS, STPHANE MALLARM ............................ 179
APPENDIX II: MYSTICAL ANARCHISM BY SIMON CRITCHLEY (2009) .... 192
APPENDIX III: A TASTE OF FAITH I (THE HELL WITHIN) BY EDIA
CONNOLE & SCOTT WILSON (2012) .................................................................. 227

2
TABLE OF ILLUSTRATIONS

Figure 1: The Clear Apprehension of Ones Own Limitations (2003). ........................... 40


Figures 2 & 3: The Clear Apprehension of Ones Own Limitations (2003) (detail)....... 41
Figures 4, 5 & 6: The Clear Apprehension of Ones Own Limitations (2003) (detail). . 42
Figures 7, 8 & 9: Mapping Nihilion (detail). .................................................................. 42
Figure 10: Mapping Nihilion (2005). .............................................................................. 43
Figure 11: Mapping Nihilion (detail). ............................................................................. 43
Figures 12 & 13: The Clear Apprehension of Ones Own Limitations (2003) (detail). . 46
Figure 14: Work in progress, mapping image onto a large sheet of gridded paper. ....... 48
Figure 15: Published photograph: J.R. Eyerman, News Bureau California Institute of
Technology Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories. ............................................. 48
Figure 16: Emma Kunz at her worktable, Waldstatt, 1958. ............................................ 50
Figure 17: Emma Kunz, Work No 086, n.d. .................................................................... 50
Figure 18: Research/Working Notebook. ....................................................................... 56
Figure 19: The Anticipation of the Nothing that I am Faced With (2006). ..................... 57
Figure 20: The Searchers (2002). ................................................................................... 57
Figure 21: Invitation in the VAI Broadsheet (Visual Arts Ireland). ............................... 60
Figure 22 & 23: View from balcony and interior of Pallas Heights, Dublin 1. .............. 61
Figure 24: Paper distributed to group during Metaphysical Longings............................ 61
Figures 25 & 26: Metaphysical Longings (2006). Site-specific installation (detail). ..... 62
Figure 27: The Change of Heart (After Yves Klein) (2006). Photographic print. ........... 66
Figure 28: The End is in the Beginning (2006). .............................................................. 67
Figure 29: Approaches to Philosophy (2006). ................................................................ 68
Figure 30: Comet (The Human Being is Death in the Process of Becoming) (2006). .... 68
Figure 31: Research/Working Notebook ........................................................................ 72
Figure 32: Hand-made mat of cashmere, moleskin, cotton (17 m x 7 m)................... 115
Figure 33 & 34 Research/Working Notebook .............................................................. 118
Figures 35: Gatherings (Transitory Encounters) (2008). ............................................. 119
Figure 36 & 37: Gatherings (Transitory Encounters) (2008). ...................................... 119
Figure 38: Mystical Anarchism (2009). An unsanctioned midnight lecture with Simon
Critchley, Glendalough, Co. Wicklow. ......................................................................... 122
Figure 39: Mystical Anarchism (2012) A Taste of Faith hosted by Edia Connole,
screening and public conversation with Simon Critchley ............................................. 123

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Figures 40: Menu, A Taste of Faith, Edia Connole and Scott Wilson .......................... 124
Figure 41: Mystical Anarchism (2012). ........................................................................ 125
Figure 42: Mystical Anarchism (2012). Conversation on the mat. ............................... 125
Figure 43: The Closing of Mystical Anarchism (2012/13) (detail) ............................... 126
Figure 44 & 45: Metaphysical Longings II. National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin. ....... 128
Figure 46: Invitation to participate in Live@8 from Ruby Wallis................................ 129
Figure 47: Introduction to Metaphysical Longings IV .................................................. 130
Figure 48: Metaphysical Longings III. .......................................................................... 131
Figure 49:Research/Working Notebook. ...................................................................... 132
Figure 50 & 51: Metaphysical Longings V. .................................................................. 133
Figure 52: Declan Clarke, Critchley on Ethics, Politics of Resistance in the
Contemporary World, 2009 .......................................................................................... 134
Figures 53 & 54: Shane Cullan, Critchley on Ethics, Politics of Resistance in the
Contemporary World, 2009 .......................................................................................... 134
Figure 55, 56, 57 & 58: Research/Working Notebooks ................................................ 136
Figure 59: Mystical Anarchism (2011). Still from 30 min. film. .................................. 137
Figure 60: Voodoo Wray set list. ................................................................................... 139
Figure 61, The Great Ecstasy of the Woodcarver Steiner, 1975 (film still). ................ 140
Figure 62 & 63: The Lab, Dublin City Council, Foley Street, Dublin 1. ..................... 143
Figure 64 & 65: Research/Working Notebooks ............................................................ 144
Figure 66: Mystical Anarchism (2009). ........................................................................ 145

4
INTRODUCTION

This enquiry seeks to address the complex engagement between art and philosophy by
examining how philosophy comes into play in my post-conceptual art practice. The
enquiry focuses on three specific artworks that exemplify my practice, Gatherings
(Transitory Encounters) (2008), Mystical Anarchism (2009-2013) and Metaphysical
Longings (2006-). These three event-based works constitute the research project and
provide examples of contemporary art through which I explore its philosophical
character. Peter Osborne, the art critic and philosopher has identified an immanently
philosophical character of contemporary art and the consequent of whether
philosophical meaning of the work can be wholly abstracted from its material means. 1
He asks, can the constitutive ambiguity characteristic of the deployment of philosophy
within the artistic field ever be resolved? 2 Instead of seeking to resolve this
ambiguity this enquiry addresses the complex engagement between the disciplines by
asking; What is the relationship between art and philosophy in my post-conceptual
practice? How might my artworks raise philosophical ideas and thought? What is the
nature of this thought?

This enquiry emerges from and is orientated by an ongoing post-conceptual art practice
which is disclosed herein from the perspective of the artist/researcher. The thesis
functions on a number of levels that are essentially linked, but are distinguished below
in seven points to clarify the role of the thesis for the reader. (i) The thesis reveals the
motivations for the enquiry by outlining how it emerged from art practice. (ii) The
thesis functions to outline how the research project developed out this practice. (iii) The
thesis presents the key terms of the enquiry, disclosing how terms such as entwinement,
liminality and other space emerged and were employed in the research project. (iv) The
thesis acts as a narrative to give detail on the research project as it unfolded. (v) central
to this narrative is a depiction of how the primary questions of enquiry are addressed
through the critical reflection on the three event-based works. My critical reflection is
informed primarily by Osborne, Foster and Dantos separate but converging readings of

1
Peter Osborne, "Art Beyond Aesthetics, Philosophical Criticism, Art History and Contemporary Art," Art History,
March 2004, 7.
2
Peter Osborne, Conceptual Art and/as Philosophy, in Rewriting Conceptual Art, ed. Michael Newman and Jon
Bird (London: Reaktion Books, 1999), 61.

5
contemporary art and Badious inaesthethics (discussed later). These particular readings
are presented and analysed because they expand the enquiry from a specific focus on
my own practice to a more general understanding of contemporary art. (vi) The thesis
relates the key insights that emerged from this enquiry and presents how they contibute
to the wider field of contemporary art discourse and aesthetics. (vii) The thesis presents
what is to be gained by conducting an enquiry into contemporary art through a post-
conceptual practice.

The motivations for the enquiry are detailed in Chapter Two through a three reflective
discussions on key works that were produced prior to embarking on the formal enquiry.
These key works are two text-based drawings, The Clear Apprehension of Ones Own
Limitations (2003) (hereinafter The Clear Apprehension) and Mapping Nihilion
(2006) and the event Metaphysical Longings (2006). This chapter also introduces the
key terms of the enquiry: entwinement, liminality and other space. A reflective
discussion on The Clear Apprehension and Mapping Nihilion analyses how
philosophy (primarily existential philosophy) is used in my art practice and how the
particular engagement between artistic processes and philosophical enquiry performed
in my practice differs from a liner engagement, where philosophy is deployed to
interpret the meaning of the artwork post-facto or where philosophy informs the artwork
so that it merely illustrates philosophical ideas. I use the term entwinement to define this
dynamic, symbiotic engagement that I observe in my post-conceptual practice. I also
detail how this entwinement of philosophy and art in practice causes me to think in a
particular way and how this observation motivates me to explore how a post-conceptual
art practice might provide a domain to engage with and raise philosophical ideas. This
analysis introduces liminality as a key term of the enquiry, detailing how I use this
anthropological term in my practice to engage with the existential question of being.
Liminality stems from the Latin word liminal, meaning threshold and is used in ritual
theory to designate a temporal, experiential and/or symbolic space that exists outside of
and beyond normative structures. 3 Liminality is regarded as other because it is

3
Arnold van Gennep, Les Rites of Passage (1909) is now recognised as a key thinker within ritual theory because of
his identification of the tripartite structure of ritual centred on the liminal state. However he was not widely known,
prior to Victor Turners re-introduction of liminality through his seminal text, The Ritual Process (1969) mainly
because Emile Durkheim, the most prolific ethnographer who also espoused theories on ritual ostracised van Gennep
from academic circles in France. For more on this please see Rosemary Zumwalt, Arnold van Gennep: The Hermit
of Bourg-la-Reine, American Anthropologist (American Anthropological Association), 84, no. 2 (June 1982): 299-
313

6
understood to arise when normative structures are symbolically played with, suspended
and transformed. 4 This analysis reveals how my engagement with liminality is crucial
to the development of the research project because it informed an emergent concern
with thought and experience and instigated a shift in my practice from the production of
art objects to the enactment of event-based works.

How the research project developed out of my practice is also detailed in Chapter Two.
How the event evolved and became the primary methodology of the research project is
detailed through an analysis of the first iteration of Metaphysical Longings in 2006.
This analysis relates how the event offered an apposite artistic framework to develop
works that foreground experience and thought on an inter-subjective level by shifting
the site of production from the solitary realm of the studio to a more expansive and
collective space. This analysis also details how the term other space informs the
working definition of the research project and how my ambition to enact an other space
through event-based works emerged out of my engagement with liminality in
Metaphysical Longings. I introduce the term other space in the discussion on
Metaphysical Longings to articulate a temporary, experiential and/or symbolic space
that differs to the quotidian. Because this term has also recently been used
metaphorically by Alberto Toscano to describe art and articulate its capacity to
engender thought, it provides a working definition to reflect on the possibility of my
event-based works to implicate ideas and raise thought. 5

The research project through consists of three event-based works, Gatherings


(Transitory Encounters), Mystical Anarchism and later iterations of Metaphysical
Longings. The thesis provides individual accounts of these works and reflects on how
they seek to enact other spaces on an experiential and symbolic level through their
engagement with liminality. These temporal artworks are predicated on a gathering of
people together and foreground experience. Gatherings (Transitory Encounters)
incorporates three events that include group meditation, an audio/visual performance
and a screening of a documentary. These events were enacted over three evenings in
June 2008. Mystical Anarchism and Metaphysical Longings do not take place over a

4
Colin Turnbull, Liminality: A Synthesis of Subjective and Objective Experience, in By Means of Performance,
ed. Wila and Schechner, Richard Appel, (Cambridge University Press, 1990), 80.
5
Alberto Toscano, The Sensuous Religion of the Multitude, Art and Abstraction in Negri, , Third Text 23 no. 4
(2009): 369-382.

7
specific time frame but were enacted over a protracted period of time. Mystical
Anarchism designates a midnight lecture, a film (of which is accompanied herein), an
event centred on the screening of this film and an installation. Mystical Anarchism was
developed and realised in collaboration with the philosopher Simon Critchley. In this
analysis I reflect on how the work sought to enact an other space where the
philosophers thoughts on the dividual might be felt or experienced. 6 Metaphysical
Longings designates an ongoing artwork that to date has consisted of six events centred
on the practice of yoga nidra, (a technique of guided visualisation that is claimed to
disengage the active, instrumental self or ego). Metaphysical Longings seeks to enact
other spaces to explore the philosophical question of being on an experiential level.

There is a paradox in giving Gatherings (Transitory Encounters), Mystical Anarchism


and Metaphysical Longings single titles because each of these works are constituted by
multiple iterations. However, this paradox articulates that these artworks are not
autonomous artistic forms that are complete but that they are open processes that evolve
through the different iterations and enactments that develop over time. 7 The thesis
outlines how the research project develops through the development and enactment of
these three artworks as they unfold.

The thesis outlines how the primary questions of the enquiry are addressed through
critical reflection on the development and enactment of Gatherings (Transitory
Encounters), Mystical Anarchism and Metaphysical Longings. While this is a practice-
based enquiry, specific theories on art and philosophy, detailed in Chapters One and

6
Critchley uses this term in Mystical Anarchism to describe the mystics involved in the Movement of the Free Spirit.
A transcript of the paper Mystical Anarchism is provided as an appendix.
7
Robert Smithsons Spiral Jetty (1970) exemplifies this strategy of using a single title to designate multiple forms.
The title Spiral Jetty designates the seminal land art piece, his essay reflecting on this work and the film documenting
its construction at Salt Lake, Utah. Osborne draws specifically on this work, observing how this work exemplifies the
transcategorical nature of contemporary art by encompassing a range of processes and disciplines. Osborne also
reflects on the multiple iterations of Spiral Jetty to demonstrate the orientation of Smithsons practice on process.
This focus on process is also sustained in Hlio Oiticicas post-conceptual practice. He articulates this when
reflecting on the Parangols, claiming the Parangols do more than define a series of typical works in the form
of the capes, banners and tents but articulate a definitive formulation that fuses together the color [sic], structures,
poetic sense, dance, words, photography all the definitive principals formulated, including that of the
nonformulation of concepts, which is the most important. Like Smithson and Oiticica, I also approach my post-
conceptual practice as a process, a process of enquiry that is mirrored in the works that configure the research project.
Like Oiticica, my process of enquiry cannot prescribe a specific concept or thought because it is also orientated
around the experience of others. For more on this see: Peter Osborne, Anywhere or Not at All: Philosophy of
Contemporary Art (London: Verso), 99-117. Oiticicas statements are taken from his essay Position and Program,
July 1966. It was first published in the catalogue for the exhibition Aspiro ao Grande Labirinto (Rio de Janeiro,
1986), and republished in Guy Brett, Hlio Oiticica (Rotterdam: Witte de With; Minneapolis: Walker Art Center,
1992). 100-105.

8
Three, respectively inform the development of the enquiry. Peter Osborne Arthur C.
Danto and Hal Fosters readings of contemporary art are presented in Chapter One to
contextualise the questions that the enquiry seeks to address from an art historical
perspective. These readings reveal how the question of the relationship between art and
philosophy and the proposition that art is a domain for thought emerged out of
developments in art practice that problematised the role of aesthetics for contemporary
art. These converging analyses of the development of contemporary art through art
practice are presented to substantiate my decision to conduct an enquiry into
contemporary art through art practice. Osbornes reading of contemporary art as post-
conceptual is also detailed to support my decision to conduct this enquiry through a
post-conceptual practice. 8

This enquiry engages with a larger conversation surrounding the relationship between
contemporary art and philosophy. Chapter Three details how this conversation
surrounding the relationship between contemporary art and philosophy and the
proposition that art is a domain for thought has been initiated in continental philosophy
through Alain Badious re-interrogation of aesthetics. 9 This chapter reveals how Badiou
proposes inaesthetics as necessary for contemporary art by analysing how inaesthetics
asserts an alternate, reciprocal engagement between art and philosophy and how this
new schema relocates thought from the external source of philosophy to the immanent
space of art. 10 This chapter outlines how Badiou formulates inaesthetics as an alternate
to speculative aesthetics, (a term he coins to designate the general reading of aesthetics
as philosophys discourse on art) and his insistence that philosophy is not to interpret,
but to reveal that art is itself a form of thought. 11 The analysis presents how
inaesthetics offers a theoretical guide to explore the nature of artistic thought. It through
this schema that Badiou distinguishes the thinking in art from philosophical thought.
(He maintains this regime of thought is irreducible to philosophy because he sees
philosophy as devoted to the invention of concepts alone). 12

8
Peter Osborne, Contemporary Art is Post-Conceptual (paper presented at: Fondazione Antonio Ratti, July 9th,
2010), 19-30.
9
For a general overview of the designate continental philosophy see Richard Kearney, Modern Movements in
European Philosophy, Second (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1994) and Simon Critchley,
Continental Philosophy, A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).
10
Alain Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, ed. Werner Hamacher, trans. Alberto Toscano (Stanford, California:
Stanford University Press, 2005), 8.
11 Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, 10.
12
Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, 9-19.

9
Chapter Three details how Badiou registers the intraphilosophical effect of art as a
special regime of thought through his reflections on literary examples, in particular
the poetry of Stphane Mallarm. Although the research project does not consist of
poems, or indeed more generally poetry, I develop the argument that Badious method
of exploring the nuances of artistic thought through poetry enables me to reflect on the
thinking that my event-based artworks may engender. I develop this argument through
Jan Verwoert and Jrg Heisers curatorial project Romantic Conceptualism (2007)
which re-evaluates conceptualism by aligning it with the romantic fragment (a poem
exemplified by Novalis) and Peter Lamarques poetic treatment of conceptualism. For
my analysis the proposition that specific artworks engender thought on a perceptive
level reaffirms my provisional claim in Chapter Two that the thinking in art is bound
with experience. The readings presented in Chapter Three are key to the enquiry
because they develop my understanding of the nature of artistic thought and inform the
insight that art invites thought.

This enquiry engages with Badious inaesthetics by examining the engagement between
contemporary art and philosophy within my post-conceptual practice. This enquiry
engages with inaesthetics from the perspective of art practice rather than from a purely
theoretical perspective of the philosopher or art critic. The thesis demonstrates a
performative contradiction in the way that it uses philosophy in a conventional manner
to explore how philosophy is entwined into a post-conceptual practice and consequently
through the enactment of the artworks. For example, although I collaborate with
Critchley in the artwork Mystical Anarchism, I do not collaborate with Badiou in any of
my artworks. Critchleys direct participation in the research project rather than Badiou
is not an incongruity. This performative contradiction is crucial because it reaffirms that
my practice is not centred on illustrating a specific philosophical system of thought such
as, inaesthetics, but that is provides a domain to engage with thought. Inaesthetics
provides a theoretical guide to explore how artworks like Mystical Anarchism offer a
way of engaging with philosophical ideas in an extra-textual manner. Identifying this
performative contradiction in the research project enables me as a researcher to
distinguish the thinking that unfolds when one encounters and perceives art from a
systematic way of thinking that is performed through the analysis of the research
project.

10
The insights gained from my engagement with inaesthetics and art theory inform the
critical reflection on the development and enactment of works that configure the reserch
project. The purpose of this reflective aspect of the enquiry is not to evaluate the
experience of those present at each art event as one would a focus group, but to
contribute to an existing and expanding understanding of contemporary art by analysing
how these examples of contemporary art might raise philosophical ideas and invite
thought. Theodor Adornos method of self-reflective evaluation from a personal,
subjective position is used to develop the enquiry. This aspect of the enquiry that
reflects on the three event-based artworks is developed over three discussions in
Chapter Four. The first discussion reflects on each event, analysing how artistic
processes and philosophy becomes entwined through enactment. The second discussion
focuses on the working definition of the research project, analysing how the works seek
to enact other spaces. This discussion introduces the term staging. In theatre staging
defines the use of temporary backdrops to create alternate, imaginary realms on an
experiential and symbolic level. The term staging is used to define the process used
throughout the research project to enact other spaces on an experiential and symbolic
level. The analysis details how staging refers to the choice of location, the timing of the
event, the mode of presentation, (for example the technique of guided visualisation used
in Metaphysical Longings), the method of assembly and the use of props, (namely a
large handmade mat measuring 17 metres by 7 metres that features in all three works)
and how it also refers to the process used to mirror of the tri-partite structure of ritual in
the enactment of Mystical Anarchism and Metaphysical Longings. The third discussion
analyses how these artworks operate as open processes might invite thought on an
experiential, perceptive and imaginative level.

The four chapters present key stages of the enquiry from the perspective of the
artist/researcher are summarised below. 13 These chapters address the questions driving
the enquiry that ask: What is the relationship between art and philosophy in my post-
conceptual practice? How might my artworks raise philosophical ideas and thought?
What is the nature of this thought?

13
Adorno maintains, the aesthetic success is a function of the skill of the trained artist to awaken the residual
contents. For more see Marie-Nolle Ryan, Towards a Critical Theory of Works of Art (University of Moncton,
2007).

11
Chapter One contextualises the enquiry in a series of discussions that reveal the
complex engagement between contemporary art and philosophy. This chapter focuses
on Osborne, Foster and Dantos readings of contemporary art to present and analyse
how the interrogation of aesthetics was played out in art practice. A brief prcis on
aesthetics outlines how it emerged as a discourse of art in the late 18th century and how
the general understanding of aesthetics as the philosophical discourse on art emerged.
This discussion functions to disclose how this general understanding of aesthetics
privileged philosophy as the site for thought. An analysis of Osborne, Foster and
Dantos readings of contemporary art reveals how developments in art practice asserted
contemporary art as a domain for thought. An analysis of Osbornes identification of the
philosophical character presents the conceptual and the sensible/experiential aspect of
contemporary art. This analysis of Osbornes reading of contemporary art as post-
conceptual also functions to substantiate the research methodology of an enquiry
through a post-conceptual practice.

Chapter Two moves from an analysis of the field of art practice and art criticism to a
reflection on my own post-conceptual practice. This chapter discloses how the enquiry
emerges from and is orientated by my own ongoing art practice. This chapter focuses on
three works, The Clear Apprehension, Mapping Nihilion and Metaphysical Longings,
to disclose how I engaged with existential philosophy in my practice and how I
formulated the term entwinement as a key term of the enquiry. This chapter also
introduces the anthropological term liminality, outlining how it informs the
entwinement between artistic processes and philosophy by providing an entry point to
engage with the existential question of being in my work. This chapter presents the
provisional claim that the thinking raised by art is bound with experience. An analysis
of Metaphysical Longings outlines how the event emerged as an artistic form that
enabled me to extend philosophical enquiry to others in an extra-textual, experiential
manner. The analysis of Metaphysical Longings also introduces the working definition
of the research project to enact other spaces.

Chapter Three moves from the field of art practice to philosophical enquiry. This
chapter details how inaesthetics provides a theoretical guide to investigate the
entwinement between art and philosophy that is sustained by my practice and to reflect

12
on the nature of artistic thought. As inaesthetics is informed by Badious evental
philosophy, a summary account of Badious reading of event is presented. The term
event cannot be used in an equivocal manner because it is also prevalent as a theme
within philosophical systems of thought. 14 Badious event is very particular and this
account outlines how his reading infers novelty as a radical transformation in thought.
The word event is italicised when referencing Badious philosophical project so as to
differentiate it from my definition as an artistic form. This summary of Badious event
is presented to explain how this philosophical system relocates thought from the
external space of philosophy to the immanent space of art. Moving from evental
philosophy to inaesthetics, the discussion outlines how inaesthetics designates a new
schema between art and philosophy, and how this knot between the disciplines is
posited to reveal the thinking particular to art. 15 The second discussion teases out what
is meant by an intraphilosophical effect so as to engage with the specificity of artistic
thought. While Badiou provides no definition of this term, I argue that this term
suggests a philosophical character by inferring how an artwork raises philosophical
ideas on an implicit level through the artistic form. I also draw on Jan Verwoerts and
Jrg Heisers revisionist readings of conceptualism through their curatorial project
Romantic Conceptualism and Peter Lamarques poetic treatment of conceptual art to
further investigate how art implicitly activates thought on a perceptive level. This
chapter introduces a key insight that emerges from the enquiry, my proposition that art
invites thought.

Chapter Four presents the main body of the research project, three event-based
artworks: Gatherings (Transitory Encounters), Mystical Anarchism and Metaphysical
Longings. These artworks provide case studies through which I explore the entwinement
between contemporary art and philosophy in my post-conceptual practice and explore
how philosophical ideas might be implicated through enactment. I consider the insights
relating to thought and experience that emerge through my engagement with

14
Badiou observes how event has become a common term for a large number of contemporary philosophers. He
claims this has emerged through the events relationship to the notion of the Outside. While the philosophy of event
forms the thought systems of Friedrich Nietzsche and Jean-Franois Lyotard and is associated with the later
Heidegger and Derrida in his reading of a philosophy of diffrance (a deliberate misspelling of diffrence). Badious
event is configured in a different manner to these systems of thought. He clarifies his concept of event as novelty
through his analysis of the Deleuzian event that is expounded in The Logic of Sense.
Alain Badiou, The Event in Deleuze, Lacan.com, accessed March 5, 2008, http://www.lacan.com/baddel.htm
15
Alain Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, ed. Werner Hamacher, trans. Alberto Toscano (Stanford, California:
Stanford University Press, 2005), 3.

13
inaesthetics and art theory to reflect how my event-based artworks might invite thought.
I reassert my propositional claim that the thinking raised by art is bound with
experience, detailing how I develop the proposition that the thinking raised by these
works is affective in nature. The term affect articulates a specific way of thinking that is
bound up with the artistic form, the encounter with this form and the subjects
experience. As affect is subject to a range of bodily sensations, it ensures that all senses,
including the higher sense of perception that is activated through the encounter with the
event-based works, and are thereby accounted for. This recognition of affect in the
mediation of idea is the most significant insight to emerge from the research project
because it affirms how art raises philosophical ideas in an implicit manner.

This enquiry is distinguished by adhering to the protocols that proceed from art practice
rather than those determined by the protocols of philosophers or art critics. I have
throughout the research project endeavoured to maintain a candid and honest reading of
these works so that this enquiry fulfils its task of contributing to the discourse on
contemporary art and the development of contemporary aesthetics. The thesis concludes
by relating five key insights that emerge from the enquiry. By detailing these insights
the thesis seeks to disclose how an enquiry through a post-conceptual art practice can
provide an appropriate and under-examined site to investigate the philosophical
character of contemporary art.

14
CHAPTER ONE: THE COMPLEX ENGAGEMENT BETWEEN CONTEMPORARY
ART AND PHILOSOPHY

1.0 Overview

This chapter contextualises the enquiry by analysing contemporary art through a series
of discussions that focus specifically on its complex engagement with philosophy. The
term contemporary art is a specific designator and this analysis focuses on three
theorists separate but converging readings of contemporary art; the Marxist
philosopher and art critic Peter Osborne, the art critic and theorist Hal Foster and the
philosopher and art critic Arthur C. Danto. These theorists observe how the contestation
of traditional aesthetics through developments in art practice informed a contemporary
reading of art. By addressing the complex engagement between contemporary art and
philosophy this analysis of contemporary art introduces the notion that art is a domain
for thought.

The first discussion provides a prcis of aesthetics from its emergence as a


philosophical discourse in the late 18th century. This prcis draws on Paul Oskar
Kristellers analysis of aesthetics and his more recent critic Jonathon Re to outline how
the general understanding of aesthetics as a philosophical discourse on art emerged and
how this in turn privileged philosophy over art as the domain for thought.

The second discussion focuses on Fosters seminal essay The Crux of Minimalism
and Osbornes analysis of conceptualism to analyse how developments in art practice
troubled aesthetics. 16 This discussion details how the neo avant-garde (a term coined by
Foster to designate minimal and post-minimal art practices that include pop and
conceptualism) interrogated the modernist interpretation of art as an idealised form and
consequently introduced the notion of art as a domain for thought.

16
Hal Foster, The Crux of Minimalism in The Return of the Real, The Avant-Garde at
the End of the Century, (Cambridge/London, Massachusetts/England: The MIT Press,
1996).

15
The third discussion focuses on Osbornes reading of contemporary art as post-
conceptual to detail how post-conceptualism presents a new form of engagement
between art and philosophy than that designated by traditional aesthetics. This
discussion reveals what Osborne means by the philosophical character of
contemporary art by detailing four key insights that he identifies as the legacy of
conceptual art that collectively designate a post-conceptual practice. 17 This discussion
contextualises the research project by presenting a post-conceptual practice and also
substantiates my decision to conduct an enquiry into the condition of thought in
contemporary art through a post-conceptual practice.

The fourth discussion details how thought emerged as a condition for contemporary art
through an analysis of Dantos End of Art thesis. This discussion outlines how Danto
configures his thesis that asserts the condition of thought in art in response to Hegels
End of Art thesis by relocating thought from the external source of philosophy to the
immanent site of art. 18

1.1 Aesthetics and the Engagement Between Art and Philosophy

This prcis outlines how the general understanding of aesthetics as a philosophical


discourse of art emerged as a particular relationship between art and philosophy.
Because philosophy is understood to interpret art, this general reading of aesthetics
locates thought in the realm of philosophy. The current interpretation of aesthetics as
the philosophy of art is a comparatively recent configuration, established by Hegel in
the early 19th century. 19 The term aesthetics has repeatedly been misused, or rather used
insufficiently, to describe the formal qualities of an art object. This conventional
interpretation of aesthetics glosses over its complexity. Osborne identifies an ambiguity
surrounding aesthetics. He maintains this ambiguity stems from the numerous
interpretations that arose since its emergence from philosophy to a discourse in its own
right in the 18th century. Osborne notes how the subjective nature of aesthetics, which
will be outlined shortly, undermined its academic status and maintains that a desire to

17
Osborne, Anywhere or Not at All, 6.
18
Arthur C. Danto, The End of Art: A Philosophical Defense, History and Theory (Dec. 1998), 135, accessed
January 27, 2011, 16.
19
This series of lectures was delivered in Berlin and compiled in 1835 by his publisher, Heinrich Gustav Hotho.

16
develop a more coherent discipline of academic worth led to the different interpretations
of aesthetics since it first emerged as a genre of philosophical enquiry. Mario Perniola
furthers this point by identifying turns that have occurred within the development of
aesthetics since the late 18th century. He observes how interpretations of aesthetics
emerged, and continue to emerge, through a series of ongoing ruptures within previous
aesthetic categories.

As the discourse of aesthetics is multifaceted and still evolving, it is necessary to look at


Paul Oskar Kristellers analysis of how aesthetics became connected to art and also
Jonathon Res more recent pronouncements on Kristeller. Kristellers influential
survey of the arts from antiquity to the 18th century reveals the emergence of art in its
modern sense as coinciding with the emergence of aesthetics. 20Philosophical reflections
on beauty and art had been around in Western thought prior to the emergence of
aesthetics. The Third Earl of Shaftsbury and the Scottish Enlightenment thinker Francis
Hutcheson looked to Platos insights that connected beauty and morality to form their
own theories. 21 However, although Shaftsbury and Hutcheson are credited with writing
on issues surrounding aesthetics, Kristeller proposes Alexander Baumgarten as the
founder of aesthetics in its modern conception insofar as he conceived a general theory
of the arts as a separate philosophical discipline. Kristeller observes that Baumgarten
secured the term aesthetics from the Greek aisthnesthai in his academic thesis
Meditationes Philosophica (1735) (Reflections on Poetry) and his unfinished textbooks
Aesthetica I (1750) and Aesthetica II (1758).

Kristeller proposes Baumgarten as the founder of aesthetics in its modern conception


Kristeller credits Baumgarten with reinvigorating the term aesthetics by focusing closely
on its etymological meaning of sensuous knowledge, which, translated from the Greek
means perceive sensuously. The enquiry into sensuous knowledge was further
developed through J.G. Hamann in Aesthetica in Nuce, (1762). Baumgartens texts were
used in an academic context to teach students how aesthetica ought to be spoken or
written about. 22 Kristeller notes that in the decades after 1760 interest in aesthetics

20
Paul Oskar Kristeller, The Modern System of the Arts: A Study in the History of Aesthetics, in Aesthetics: A
Comprehensive Anthology, ed. Steven M. Cahn (London: Blackwell, 2007).
21
For more see The Third Earl of Shaftsbury and Francis Hutcheson Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty
and Virtue (1725), written as two treatises; the subject of the first is aesthetics Concerning Beauty, Order,
Harmony, Design and the second morality Concerning Moral Good and Evil.
22
Re, The Aesthetic Theory of the Arts, 58.

17
increased and courses were offered in universities on the subject and in literary criticism.
However Baumgarten failed to develop this doctrine with reference to any of the arts
other than poetry or eloquence. The composer Felix Mendelssohn criticised Baumgarten
on this shortcoming and suggested that these aesthetic principles should be formulated
so as to apply to visual art and music.

Jonathan Re describes how Baumgartens term aesthetics became connected with the
fine arts. He identifies Gotthold Ephraim Lessing as re-launching Baumgartens term to
refer not just to the discipline of representing sensory matters in discourse, but as a
theoretical attempt to connect the different bodily senses to the various fine arts,
including the non-discursive arts that Baumgarten had failed to consider. 23 Re
identifies Lessings Laokon linking the bildende Knste - the formative or plastic arts
of sculpture and painting - with aesthetics. 24 This link between the fine arts and
aesthetics that we know today was further advanced by Kants comprehensive attempt
to integrate the system of the five fine arts (which had recently been expanded from the
previous three that were established during the Renaissance) with judgments of beauty
and the sublime through his theory of sensory experience in The Critique of Judgment
(1790). 25

Kants public and highly prolific response to Baumgartens thesis furthered the
discourse, connecting it with the speculation of the nature of art. An acknowledgment of
sensuous knowledge in Kants third critique complicates quantifiable scientific
analysis. By positing the notion of disinterestedness, Kants critique increased the gap
between the discourse of art and empiricism. Kants notion of purposiveness without
purpose ran counter to the previous role of art and enabled a more complex
understanding of the previous Platonic connection between beauty and the good. 26 The
subjective nature of a discourse on sensuous knowledge was not without issue as it
complicated the straightforward Platonic interpretation of the didactic function of art.

23
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Laokon; An Essay on the Limits of Painting and Poetry (1766), trans. Edward Allen
McCormick (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1984).
24
Re, The Aesthetic Theory of the Arts, 58 - 59.
25
It is noteworthy that Kant rejected the whole idea of a theory of arts or artistic value in his first critique, The
Critique of Pure Reason (1781).
26
For more on this see Andre Bowie, Aesthetics and Subjectivity, second (Manchester and New York: Manchester
University Press, 2003), 2.

18
Re distinguishes Hegels Lectures on Fine Art (posthumously published in 1835) as
instituting aesthetics as a philosophical discourse on art through his synthesis of Plato,
Lessing and Kants philosophical conjectures. 27 Hegels interpretation of aesthetics is
key to establishing philosophy as the domain for thought because it asserts the Platonic
conception of philosophy as the locus of truth. Although Hegel is associated with
Romanticism through his contribution to The Oldest System Programme for German
Idealism (1796), his End of Art thesis (which will be discussed in greater detail shortly)
articulates his departure from the Romantic conception of art as the source of truth. 28
Although Hegel claims that art invites intellectual consideration, he maintains it is not
for the purpose of creating art again, but for knowing philosophically what art is. 29 By
claiming the possibility of philosophy knowing art, Hegel affirms the Platonic
conception of philosophy as the locus of truth and places thinking within the sole
jurisdiction of philosophy. Privileging philosophy as the domain for thought advances a
hierarchical relationship between the disciplines. Under these terms the relationship of
philosophy to art is that of interpretation.

This very brief prcis on aesthetics invariably glosses over more nuanced interpretations
theorised by Kristeller and Re. However, it is offered as an outline of how the
conception of aesthetics as the philosophical interpretation of art emerged. To recap,
Baumgarten is essentially accepted as proposing a theory of sensuous knowledge as a
counterpoint to logic as a theory of intellectual knowledge. The interpretation of
aesthetics as an enquiry of beauty and taste is generally associated with the British
school, which includes Anthony Ashley Cooper, The Third Earl of Shaftsbury, Francis
Hutchenson, who wrote Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue
(1725) and later David Hume. 30 Gotthold Ephraim Lessings seminal Laokon: An
Essay on the Limits of Painting and Poetry (1766) can be regarded as the first to link
sensory knowledge with the fine arts. Following which Kant developed this link in his
Critique of Judgment (1790). The development of aesthetics as philosophys discourse

27
Re, The Aesthetic Theory of the Arts, 58.
28
It is acknowledged that this manifesto is handwritten by Hegel, however many consider the work to be that of
Schelling. Please see Andrew Bowie, Aesthetics and Subjectivity, second (Manchester and New York: Manchester
University Press, 2003), 55. This statement can be found in Robert Kudielka, "According to What: Art and the
Philosophy of the "End of Art," History and Theory, Dec. 1998: 87-101.
29
Hegels Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Arts, trans. by T. M. Knox. Oxford; The Clarendon Press, 1975, 11.
30
Francis Hutheson, Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue (1725), n.p.

19
on art was firmly established by Hegel in his lectures which were posthumously
published as his Lectures on Fine Art (1835).

It is important to note that developments in philosophical thought and art practice, most
notably literature, prompted further interpretations of aesthetics. For philosophers and
poets associated with Jena Romanticism ideas relating to the emergence of subjectivity
were bound with aesthetics. This position is articulated by the German politico-
philosophical manifesto The Oldest System Programme which places the aesthetic
act as the highest act of reason. 31 Although Hegel is understood to have contributed
to this manifesto (along with Schelling and Hlderlin) his assertion of the Platonic
conception of philosophy as the locus of truth departs from the Romantic notion of art
as the ultimate bearer of truth. 32 The Romantic notion of art as Absolute asserts art as a
potential site for thought. The association between contemporary art and Romanticism
derives from the fact that our understanding of art in its contemporary sense is informed
by the conception of art advanced by Jena Romanticism. 33 This association will be
discussed in greater detail through an analysis of Romantic Conceptualism in Chapter
Three.

1.2 The Troubling of Aesthetics in Art Practice

Looking back at the canon of art in the late 19th century/early 20th century, we see how a
Hegelian conception of aesthetics as the philosophical interpretation of art was
contested by practices associated with the early avant-garde, most notably Dada.
Performances at the Cabaret Voltaire, Kurt Schwitters sound poems, (which he
described as psychological collages and Duchamps ready-made) explicitly attacked
the notion of aesthetics as the discourse of art. It was impossible to thematise Dada art

31
Bowie, Aesthetics and Subjectivity, 2.
32
Bowie, Aesthetics and Subjectivity, 2.
33
Osborne raised this point in a round table conversation held in NCAD in January 2014 with Declan Long, and PhD
researchers Alison Pilkington, Rebecca O Dwyer and myself. No transcript of this informal discussion exists.
However, this insight is captured in Peter Osborne, Anywhere or Not at All: Philosophy of Contemporary Art
(London/New York: Verso, 2013). There is an issue worth flagging: although Mallarm is not a Romantic poet, his
poetry operates in a similar manner to the Romantic fragment in that it operates as an open process that requires, or
demands, the readers engagement. Like the Romantic fragment, Mallarms poems have an indeterminate quality
that requires the reader to complete these works through the faculty of perception and imagination. This issue will be
discussed in greater detail in Chapter Three.

20
works and gestures through aesthetic categories, for instance, Duchamps Fountain
(1917) resisted traditional aesthetic interpretation. 34

In his essay The Crux of Minimalism Foster observes how this attack on aesthetics re-
emerged in the late 1960s through minimalism. Fosters analysis of the neo-avant-garde
through minimalism informs his reading of contemporary art. Foster names this
retroactive process of returning to previous artistic configurations as anti-aesthetic.
Although the term anti-aesthetic undoubtedly acknowledges the early avant-garde
(exemplified by Duchamps anti-aesthetic gesture of the readymade), Foster does not
use this term to describe a position. He uses it to describe a practice that encourages
more critical engagement with previous artistic forms and ideas from the field of art and
theory. Foster formulates his contemporary reading of art by re-evaluating minimalism
in relation to practices associated with the early avant-garde. 35 Like Duchamps ready-
made, artworks defined as minimal, which were often fabricated in industrial factories,
resisted interpretation as they did not comply with the aesthetic requirements of the
idealised art form. Foster focuses on the practices of Robert Morris, Donald Judd and
Tony Smith and observes how by disrupting the modernist reading of art as autonomous
minimalist practices contested the relevancy of aesthetics. Morris and Judds practices
also included critical writings on art upon which Foster draws in his analysis. He notes
how Judds redefinition of the artistic form as a specific object complicates modernist
aesthetic categories by undoing the modernist interpretation of art as an idealised
autonomous form. 36 Judds definition is logical when we learn that his works, like those
of his fellow minimalists, were fabricated in an industrial factory. 37 The departure from

34
As Stephen. C. Foster observes, The fabrication of Schwitters collages is not simply a combinational task of
fitting elements together; nor is it just an assembly of discovered materials. It is a more complex process of the
constant reinvention and exploration of dialogues. Stephen C. Foster, Event Structures and Art Situations, ed.
Stephen C. Foster (London: UMI Research Press, 1988), 277.
35
Although the prefix anti suggests the elimination of aesthetics, Foster hesitates to do this completely, claiming,
The adventures of the aesthetic make up one of the greatest narratives of modernity. Fosters appreciation of the
critical capacity of aesthetic enquiry aligns with Rancire, who also registers aesthetics as not just a regime for
identifying art, but one that carries a politics, or metapolitics, within it. Jacques Rancire, Aesthetics and its
Discontents (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2009). Foster develops from Adorno, who considers aesthetic as
subversive, a critical interstice in an otherwise instrumental world. However, claiming the criticality of aesthetics is
illusionary, and responds to Antonio Gramscis critical demand for a new strategy of interference. Foster draws
attention to the requirement for an expansion of the privileged aesthetic realm by identifying the emergence of new
aesthetic experiences not readily thematised by conventional aesthetics, formulating anti-aesthetics to reactivate the
space of aesthetics as a critical interstice. In his anthology, Foster presents anti-aesthetics as expanding the privileged
realm by signalling a practice, cross-disciplinary in nature, that is sensitive to cultural forms engaged in a politic (i.e.
feminism) or rooted in the vernacular. In this way anti-aesthetics does not close down but instead expands aesthetic
enquiry so that it might capture more critical and multifarious forms of art practice. For more see Hal Foster, The
Anti-Aesthetic, Essays on Postmodern Culture (London: Pluto Press, 1985).
36
Donald Judd, Specific Objects, in Donald Judd: Early Work, 1955-1968 (New York: D.A.P., 2002).
37
The company that fabricated Die (1967) had a sign that read, "You specify it; we fabricate it."

21
an overarching emphasis on the medium-specificity of the artwork that had been
generally preserved since the late 18th century undermined formal traditional aesthetic
categories that were no longer equipped to engage with Judd and his cohorts specific
objects.

Foster analyses this complication of aesthetics by minimalism, observing how Morris


viewed this as productive in his essay Notes on Sculpture, Parts I and II. Morris ends
Part I claiming that the emergence of aesthetic terms that are not thematised by formal
aesthetics potentialises a new freedom in artistic practice. 38 This sense of freedom can
be registered in the radical shift from previous artistic concerns instigated by minimalist
practices. In Part II, Morris responds to Tony Smiths comments on the scale of his Die
(1968). 39 By claiming The object is but one of the terms in the newer aesthetic,
Morris shifts the priority from the art object to an emergent concern with the encounter
as the subject/object dynamic. 40 Foster points to Smiths famous anecdote of his night
ride on the unfinished New Jersey Turnpike published in Artforum in 1966, "The
experience on the road was something mapped out but not socially recognized where
Smith articulates how this experience did something for me that art had never done.
This emphasis on experience is reasserted when he states, I thought to myself, it ought
to be clear that's the end of art. Most paintings look pretty pictorial after that. There is
no way you can frame it, you just have to experience it. 41

By disrupting a visual bias associated with late modernism, the minimalist concern with
experience instigated a radical shift away from a modernist reading of art as an idealised
and autonomous form. As Re notes, this bias creates a habit of seeing the world with a
false kind of impassivity, as if it was a kind of picture. 42 Foster reads this shift as
informing the foundations for a contemporary reading of art. The minimalist emphasis

38
Robert Morris, Notes on Sculpture Part II, in Minimal Art, A Critical Anthology, ed. Gregory Battcock, 230-235
(LA, California: University of California Press, 1996), 229-230.
39
Q. Why didnt you make it larger so that it would loom over the observer. A. I was not making a monument. Q.
Then why didnt you make it smaller so that the observer could see over the top. A. I was not making an object. Tony
Smiths replies to questions about his six-foot steel cube. Morris, Notes on Sculpture Part II, 229-230.
40
Morris, Notes on Sculpture Part II, 232.
41
" Samuel J. Wagstaff Jr., Talking with Tony Smith, in Minimal Art, A Critical Anthology (Boston, ,
Massachusetts, 1968), 386 and Artforum, Dec. 1966, quoted in Robert Storr's essay, "A Man of Parts," in MoMA's
catalogue of the Tony Smith exhibition
42
Jonathan Re examines the bias towards vision in his commentary on 20th century modernity. Re looks to
German philosopher Oswald Spenglers theory of culture in Decline of the West (1918). Spengler notes the
underlying principles differ from culture to culture and observes through the development of perspective that the
principles in the West became oriented by vision. Jonathan Re, The Aesthetic Theory of the Arts, in From an
Aesthetic Point of View, Philosophy, Art and the Senses, ed. Peter Osborne (London: Serpents Tail, 2000).

22
on the subjects experience over the formal qualities of work prompted minimalisms
most vocal critic, Michael Fried, to charge minimalism as the negation of art. 43 Fried
articulated how minimalism threatened the disciplinary order in modern aesthetics. 44
Fried coins the term theatricality to wager his claim that minimalism negates art because
it denies the viewer a proper aesthetic experience by initiating an immediate encounter
with their physicality. Foster reflects on Frieds analysis that argues that these physical
forms of engagement situate the viewers experience in a palpable presence of the here
and now. Fried maintains that it is impossible to approach these artworks as complete
because, he maintains, the contingency of perception undoes the purity of
conception. Fried claims minimalism disrupts an idealised notion of art by identifying
the special complicity that a work exhorts from the beholder. 45 Although Fried coined
the term theatricality as a term of derision, Foster observes how Morris reinterprets
theatricality to define the overarching minimalist concern with the subjects experience.
Instead of approaching contingency as problematic, this quality was deemed productive
because in the way that it relocated the act of thinking from the privileged domain of
philosophy to the domain of the subject through their encounter with the work. Like
Morris, Foster sees the value of this dialectical moment which returns the viewer to
their own subjectivity in the way that it disrupts a transcendental idealised aesthetic
experience. As he observes, Thus far from idealist, the minimalist work complicates
the purity of conception with the contingency of perception, of the body in a particular
space and time. 46

Foster also uses the term neo-avant-garde to designate conceptualism. This movement
that developed out of minimalism further problematised traditional aesthetics. The
conceptual mandate of Art as Idea that reassigned the role of the art object as a
functionary to mediate idea radically undermined the hegemony of philosophy in
aesthetics. The various processes associated with conceptual art practice, such as Joseph
Kosuths use of philosophical enquiry, Art and Languages archival practices and
Robert Barrys gestures in which thought was the primary medium demonstrated clearly
how formal aesthetics lacked the critical resources to thematise these works which

43
Fried, Art and Objecthood: Essays and Review, 153.
44
Foster, The Return of the Real, 40.
45
Foster, The Return of the Real, 40.
46
Foster, The Return of the Real, 40.

23
functioned primarily to mediate idea. 47 In his essay Art After Philosophy Kosuth
discusses how conceptual artworks demonstrate the separation between aesthetics and
art. He presents his case by arguing that arts existence as a tautology which enables
art to remain aloof from philosophical presumptions. 48

Osborne observes how conceptualism profoundly challenged aesthetics by introducing a


new engagement between philosophy and art. Kosuths direct use of philosophy in One
and Three Chairs (1965) complicates aesthetics by shifting the role of philosophy from
the external realm to the internal domain of art, demonstrating an alternative role of
philosophy from that of interpretation. Osborne describes how this seminal work One
and Three Chairs literally performs Wittgensteins philosophical theories of language
by presenting the relation between language, picture and referent. It is generally
accepted that Kosuths Art After Philosophy, established the term conceptualism to
define an artistic movement whose primary motivations were to question the nature of
art by presenting new propositions as to arts nature. 49 Kosuth argues that the
explication of philosophical ideas through presentation affirms the philosophical status
of the artwork so much so that he claims art is analogous to an analytic proposition. 50

Osborne draws attention to the difficulty of this relationship between art and philosophy
that verges on complete identification. 51 Although Kosuth makes the general claim
that art is philosophy, Osborne observes that Kosuths understanding of philosophy is
particular. Kosuths conceptual mandate rests on the principles of certain analytical
philosophy, being derived directly from A.J. Ayers logical positivism. 52 Osborne
concedes the problem with a dependence of conceptual art upon a specific philosophical

47
Art and Language was a collaborative project developed by Michael Baldwin, Mel Ramsden, David Bainbridge
and Harold Hurrell in 1968. This British conceptual collaboration drew on linguistic philosophy to examine the
ideological presuppositions underlying art institutionalisation. They presented this enquiry through discussion and the
exhibition of their archive of research material displayed as indexes and their journal Art and Language through
which they formed a network with US conceptual artists such as Kosuth.
48
Kosuth, Art After Philosophy After, 161.
49
Osborne, Conceptual Art and/as Philosophy, 56.
50
Joseph Kosuth, Art After Philosophy, in Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthology, ed. Alexander Alberro and Blake
Stimson, 158-178 (Boston, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1999), 161.
51
Osborne, Conceptual Art and/as Philosophy,58.
Kosuths definition of conceptual art has also been questioned by critic Jrg Heiser. Heiser draws attention to the
problematic of a canon that excludes from the conceptual art system anything that might complicate the logical,
analytical mandate of art as idea. However, although Heiser identifies this shortcoming, he appreciates why certain
conceptual artists such as Kosuth and Art and Language established such rigid tenets because the movement was
vehemently contested from the outset.
52
Osborne furthers this argument by making an arguable claim that logical positivism is now long discredited.
Conceptual Art and/as Philosophy,58.

24
system because it rules out the range of philosophical systems of thought such as
ontology, phenomenology and existentialism which are within the framework of the
53
continental tradition. As Osborne notes, After Wittgenstein, Kosuth assures us,
continental philosophy need not seriously be considered. 54 Kosuths position is
therefore dependant on a tautological definition of art and dependant on a particular
philosophy of logic. The problem with the dependence of analytical or strong
conceptual art upon specific (often highly problematic, but also inadvertently socially
representative) philosophical standpoints is its reduction to a particular reading of art
and that his reading is based on a particular philosophical theory. 55 For Kosuth,
conceptual art is an art that recognizes that arts art condition is a conceptual state
in that the artistic form is conceptually irrelevant to the condition of art. 56 Osborne
interprets Kosuths proposition as a regulative fantasy because it collapses arts
identity as analytic propositions. Osborne argues that this conflation of art and analytic
philosophy simultaneously introduces and forecloses the semiological character of
visual art by abstracting from all questions of medium, form, visuality, and materiality,
while nonetheless continuing to pose them implicitly in his presumption of arts
difference from other forms of signification. 57

Not all conceptual artists subscribed to this exclusive or strong reading of


conceptualism that Kosuth advanced. 58 Adrian Piper articulated her dissatisfaction with
these restricted parameters by claiming, If we have to be concerned with one particular
concept to be a conceptualist, somethings gone badly wrong. 59 Although Piper

53
For more continental philosophy see Richard Kearney, Modern Movements in European Philosophy, Second
(Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1994) and Simon Critchley, Continental Philosophy, A
Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).
54
Osborne, Conceptual Art and/as Philosophy, 58.
55
Osborne, Conceptual Art and/as Philosophy, 57.
56
Osborne identifies three main components that define Kosuths conceptualism, they are, linguistic reduction,
psychologism and the collapse of the distinction between art and criticism. This collapse of the artwork and art
criticism is exemplified by the artistic gestures of Art and Language, which took the ultimate form of the attempt to
efface the categorical difference between art and criticism in the polemical presentation of critical discourse as itself
art, in the journal Art and Language.
Osborne describes how conceptualism sought to transfer the cultural authority of philosophy, upheld since the 18th
century as the locus of meaning to the artwork. As outlined in Chapter One, in this way conceptualist practices
developed the critique of aesthetics by their wholesale rejection of the modernist paradigm that was asserted by
minimalism. Their departure from the principles of modernism, evidenced by mandate art as idea, extended the
horizon of contemporary art by attesting the primacy of art for thought. By using more communicative and didactic
artistic processes conceptualism undermined the hierarchical role of art criticism. However, Osborne describes the
conflation of the discipline of art and the discipline of analytic philosophy as a regulative fantasy, observing how
exclusive conceptual practices sought to uphold intellectual adequacy and retain autonomy
57
Osborne, Conceptual Art and/as Philosophy, 59.
58
Osborne, Conceptual Art and/as Philosophy, 49.
59
Osborne, Conceptual Art and/as Philosophy, 55 56.

25
contests a strict conceptual reading of art as an analytical enterprise her practice sustains
a rigorous engagement with philosophy. It is noteworthy that Piper, now philosopher,
had little interest in the idea of an ontology of art. 60 Although Pipers practice does not
adhere to Kosuths conceptual reading of art as analytical enterprise, her work provides
a domain for thought. As Osborne notes, her artistic and philosophical interests are not
invested in the philosophical conception of what art is but explore the broader
metaphysical notions of space, time and self-hood. 61 Like Kosuths One and Three
Chairs (1965), Pipers work, such as Funk Lesson (1982-84), raises philosophical
questions, but unlike Kosuth, these questions are linked with philosophical traditions
associated with the continental school of philosophy. By confronting issues of race and
gender, Pipers practice expands the strict reading of conceptualism towards a post-
conceptual reading of art.

Comparing Pipers approach to philosophy with Kosuths reveals the nuances that
delineate the multifarious relationships between art and philosophy. For example,
Kosuth claims art as philosophy. Conversely, Art and Language read philosophy as art.
The expansion of Pipers practice into Kantian philosophy demonstrates the profound
bind in her practice with philosophy. Piper considers herself as both an artist and a
philosopher. An acknowledgment of Pipers status as a professor of philosophy within
the discursive space of contemporary art demonstrates how philosophy is acknowledged
within the rubric of art. This is distinguished from her reception in domain of
philosophy where her status as a conceptual artist is treated separate from her academic
status by philosophy scholars. This symbiotic relationship between art and philosophy
continues and recent contemporary practices, such as that of, Thomas Hirschhorn,
demonstrate that philosophical enquiry is at the core of art practice. Hirschhorn works
in close collaboration with the philosopher Marcus Steinweg to develop monumental
installations that are dedicated to thinkers and philosophers. These works include
Spinoza Monument (1999), Deleuze Monument (2000), Bataille Monument, (2002) and
Gramsci Monument (2013). 62

60
Although Piper is most widely recognised as a conceptual artist she is also a philosopher who has taught at
Georgetown, Harvard, Michigan, Stanford, and UCSD. She became the first tenured African American woman
professor in the field of philosophy in 1987. She was awarded the title of Professor Emeritus by the American
Philosophical Association in 2011.
61
Osborne, Conceptual Art and/as Philosophy, 55 56.
62
These monuments have to date been constructed in areas of social housing with participation from the local
community.

26
This analysis details how developments in art practice complicated a reading of
aesthetics as the philosophical interpretation of art and relocated thought from the
external domain of philosophy to the immanent space of art troubling of aesthetics
through art practice. These developments in art practice are consequential to a
contemporary understanding of art that asserts thought as a condition of art.

1.3 Contemporary Art as Post-Conceptual

When Osborne speaks of contemporary art he does not use the term contemporary as a
chronological descriptor to define present artistic practices. Instead Osborne sees
contemporary art as being premised on a complex historical experience that followed
the destruction of the ontological significance of previous artistic conditions. 63 Osborne
maintains the term contemporary is one that imposes critical demands on art by
asserting a continued interrogation of the meanings and possibilities of art that was
initiated by conceptualism. By advancing contemporary art as post-conceptual, Osborne
presents contemporary art as developing from the legacy of conceptualism. The four
insights that Osborne observes as defining the conceptual legacy are detailed to
elucidate how they collectively designate both contemporary art and a post-conceptual
practice. These insights also reveal what identifies the philosophical character of
contemporary art by presenting the complex bind between contemporary art and
philosophy that this enquiry explores.

The first insight Osborne identifies is the ineliminability but radical insufficiency of
the aesthetic dimension of the artwork. 64 By challenging the aesthetic definition of the
artwork Osborne posits the conceptual legacy as instituting a conceptual aspect in a
contemporary appreciation of art. However, the failure of conceptualism to completely
eliminate the artistic form demonstrates how the inevitability of the artistic form and
how the sensible aspect of form affect how we encounter works. Osborne captures this
dualistic engagement that takes place through this encounter by describing
contemporary art as the reflective mediation of concepts and affects. Although

63
Osborne, Anywhere or Not at All, 48.
64
Osborne, "Art Beyond Aesthetics, 27.

27
conceptual art places emphasis on the idea, the reception of idea is ultimately
communicated through a sensible medium. 65 Osborne registers how post-conceptualism
critically re-evaluates the notion of the dematerialised art object by acknowledging the
inevitability of form and making use of the distinguishing features. 66 Osbornes first
insight draws attention to the unavoidable sensible dimension of the artwork and that
this aspect informs how ideas in art are mediated.

The second insight that Osborne identifies in the legacy of conceptualism is the
necessary conceptuality of art. As noted in the previous discussion, the conceptual
mandate of art as idea, and the understanding of the artwork as functioning within the
mediation of idea asserted the primacy of art for thought. However, rather than
presenting thought as an analytical enterprise, as Kosuth promotes, Osbornes
observation of contemporary art as the reflective mediation of concepts and affects
reinstates the sensible dimension of the work as playing a part in its conceptual
framework. In this way, the philosophical character of contemporary art is not merely
dependant on the philosophy that is employed, but on the manner in which it is
employed through the formation and presentation of the artwork.

The third insight that Osborne registers is the critical requirement of the anti-aesthetic
use of aesthetic materials. This is a development from Osbornes first insight by
registering a movement from an absolute anti-aesthetic to the recognition in post-
conceptualism of its own inevitable form. This awareness of form, be it a text,
utterance, gesture, object, etc further affirms how the sensible dimension cannot be
overlooked because it plays a fundamental role in the conceptuality of the work. 67

65
Lucy R. Lippard, Six Years: The Dematerialisation of the Art Object (New York: Praeger, 1973), 43.
66
Sol le Wit advanced the conceptual mandate of Art as Idea in his Paragraphs on Conceptual Art (1967). The
conceptual mandate was developed by Joseph Kosuth, who claimed in his manifesto essay Art After Philosophy
(1969) that In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. Osborne observes
although Le Witts essay was not the first to identify a particular kind of art as distinctly conceptual, it was through
Le Witts Paragraphs that the idea achieved an extended critical thematisation. Le Witts Paragraphs took hold in
the US art world as a unifying framework for the self-understanding of an emergent body of work. (Osborne notes
how the term concept had been used previously in 1961 by Fluxus artist Henry Flynt to describe a constituent
material of an artwork, of which the material is concepts as the material of e.g. music is sound. Furthermore,
George Maciunus credits Flynt with formulating this notion as early as 1954 in his Genealogical Chart of Fluxus
(1968). Peter Osborne, Conceptual Art and/as Philosophy, in Rewriting Conceptual Art, ed. Michael Newman and
Jon Bird (London: Reaktion Books, 1999) p.52. Sol Le Witt, Paragraphs on Conceptual Art, 1969, Artforum, June
1967. Joseph Kosuth, Art After Philosophy (1969), in Art After Philosophy After, Collected Writings 1966-1990,
ed. Gabrielle Guercio (M.I.T. Press, 1991).
67
Peter Osborne, Contemporary Art is Post-Conceptual (paper presented at: Fondazione Antonio Ratti, July 9th,
2010), 11.

28
Osbornes fourth insight is the post-conceptual awareness of the multifarious forms that
constitute art. Osborne reflects on the numerous forms that constitute art to identify an
essential transcategorical nature of post-conceptualism. 68 The term transcategorical
not only captures the range of forms and processes that constitute a post-conceptual
practice, but also the range of disciplines that are now incorporated into the framework
of contemporary art. To explain this quality Osborne reflects on Robert Smithsons
Spiral Jetty (1970), observing the title Spiral Jetty does not refer to a single, discrete art
form, that is the artwork sited in the Salt Lake in Utah, but is also used to refer to an
essay reflecting on this work and a film documenting its construction. Smithsons
gesture of using a single title to refer to multiple artistic forms does two things: it asserts
the artwork as an open-process, by acknowledging a work that is constituted by multiple
forms while inscribing non-artistic disciplines within the framework and legacy of art
practice.

These insights that Osborne identifies within the legacy of conceptualism collectively
designate post-conceptualism and accordingly contemporary art. By acknowledging the
problematic relationship between contemporary art and aesthetics, Osborne discloses
the complexity of the philosophical character of contemporary art. Instead of positing
aesthetics as redundant, Osborne sees the troubling of traditional aesthetics (as the
philosophical interpretation of art) in the conceptual legacy as informing its
contemporaneous status. By positing contemporary art as post-conceptual Osborne
registers contemporary art as maintaining a complex (albeit contentious) relationship
between art and aesthetics that was paradoxically sustained through its contestation by
conceptual art. Acknowledging how the artistic form (be it object or non-object based
temporary art forms such as conceptual propositions or events) informs ones
experience of art demonstrates that it could be deemed unproductive to completely
eliminate some form of aesthetics that accounts for sensation from the framework of
contemporary art. The inevitability of the artistic form prohibits a definitive rejection of
aesthetics because sensory knowledge invariably comes into play in the reception of
idea. Although Osborne does not explicitly identify thought per se, his insights gesture
towards this condition by demonstrating how one engages with contemporary art.

68
Osborne, Contemporary Art is Post-Conceptual, 10.

29
1.4 Asserting the Condition of Thought in Contemporary Art

Unlike Foster and Osbornes analysis, Dantos thesis explicitly asserts the condition of
thought in contemporary art by positing that the essence of post-historical art is its
primacy for thought. In this way Danto captures the insights from Osbornes and
Fosters analyses in a single thesis. Like Foster and Osborne, Danto also responds to the
question of aesthetics through a retrospective analysis of developments in art practice.
By liberating art from the philosophical disenfranchisement of art, Danto repositions
meaning from the external site of philosophy to the internal realm of the artwork.69
However, this theoretical movement of distancing philosophy from art is not without
issue, as some argue, his thesis performs a double movement that transforms art into a
philosophical enterprise. 70 Dantos perceived conflation of art with philosophy
reaffirms that the relationship between contemporary art and philosophy is complex.

Although Danto does not use the term contemporary, his term post-historical, which
describes post-minimal practices from the late 1960s such as pop art and
conceptualism, aligns with Osbornes contemporary reading of art. Dantos reading of
art rearticulates to some extent what Osborne identifies as a transcategorical quality.
The term post-historical articulates the conclusive fact that there are no longer any
qualifications for art. Danto develops the term post-historical by reflecting on specific
artworks that resist categorisation. For Danto Andy Warhols Brillo Box (1964)
exemplifies this moment because of the impossibility to differentiate it from non-art
objects. Without stylistic or philosophical constraints Danto proposes that the final
moment in the meta-narrative of art has been marked. However, instead of refuting
those that resist categorisation as the end of art and approaching the post-historical as a
situation where the institution of art becomes dismantled, Danto argues that this
resistance to philosophical interpretation reveals a new capacity for art the potential
for art to think itself.

69
Arthur C. Danto, The End of Art: A Philosophical Defense, History and Theory (Dec. 1998), 135, accessed
January 27, 2011,
http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=00182656%28199812%2937%3A4%3C127%3ATEOAAP%3E2.0.CO%3B2-7
70
A volume of History and Theory, is dedicated to Danto and His Critics: Art History, Historiography and After the
End of Art. For more see: Noel Carroll, The End of Art?, History and Theory, Dec 1998: 17-29 and Jane Forsey,
Philosophical Disenfranchisement in Danto's "End of Art", The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 59, no. 4
(Autumn 2001), 403-409.

30
In The End of Art thesis Danto asserts the primacy of art for thought in response to
Hegels homonymous thesis. In order to explicate how Danto re-conceives the role of
art within the historical narrative it is necessary to briefly outline how Danto revisits
Hegels thesis of the exaltation of philosophy over art and the implications of this in
relation to aesthetics and art. 71 Dantos thesis develops from Hegels philosophy of art
to engage with the complex engagement between art and philosophy in his own zeitgeist
and reassert thought within the domain of art.

Hegels philosophy of art focuses on different forms of engagement between the


disciplines of art and philosophy that inform his zeitgeist. Because Hegels philosophy
of art identifies the various phases of art within its classification it is regularly
interpreted as a history of art. However, Danto maintains that the real focus of Hegel's
philosophy is not an analysis of the history of art, but a philosophical enterprise seeking
to develop the conception of Geist. Hegel uses this term to define the capacity of self-
understanding, identifying art as an expression of Geist. Hegels End of Art thesis
broadly focuses on the progress in self-understanding by examining the stages within
the overarching narrative of art history.

Hegel registers the adaptive nature of art by noting how the function of art changes over
time. He identifies three different stages in the narrative of art history to present the
emergence of self-understanding, classifying these as symbolic, classical, and
romantic. 72 Hegels associate Schelling had previously conducted a similar enterprise
through his categorisation of the arts. The first stage, which Hegel identifies as
symbolic, corresponds with Schellings identification of a Platonic category, as both are
mimetic. The terms classical and romantic used in Hegels classification conform with
Schellings use of these terms within his categorisation. Both philosophers read
Aristotles classical stage as sustaining the cathartic capacity of art. Similarly, both
philosophers conceive the romantic understanding of the faculty of art as a touchstone
to or an embodiment of the Divine. Hegel identifies arts highest vocation in

71
Arthur C Danto, Hegel's End of Art Thesis, in A New History of German Literature, ed. D.E. Wellbury and J.
Ryan, 535-40 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2004), 6.
72
Hegels classification of the arts corresponds with categories previously configured by his associate Friedrich von
Schelling in The Philosophy of Art (1802-03).

31
Romanticism because he observes these practices allow mans rational need to lift the
inner and outer world into his spiritual consciousness as an object. 73

Danto maintains that Hegel approached art as a staging area in the epic of self-
74
knowledge. When Hegel talks about Romanticism, he maintains, The impression
they make is of a more reflective kind, and what they arouse in us needs a higher
touchstone and a different test. 75 Hegels End of Art defines a new development of
self-understanding in his zeitgeist. 76 Hegel identifies an adjustment from the romantic
relationship to art, articulating this in his Lectures on Aesthetics, which state, Art no
longer affords that satisfaction of spiritual needs which earlier ages and nations sought
in it. 77 From Hegels statement it is clear that he no longer sees art as capable of
developing Geist. Hegel develops this argument by claiming that, The peculiar nature
of artistic production and of works of art no longer fills our highest need. We have got
beyond venerating works of art as divine and worshiping them. 78 By calling an end to
art, Hegel declares philosophy as the sole discipline capable of a developed engagement
with self-knowledge and more transcendental forms of thought.

Danto interprets Hegels End of Art thesis as the exaltation of philosophy over art
because it concludes the role of art within an overarching philosophical narrative. 79
Although Hegel is associated with Schelling and other German romantic philosophers
and poets such as Schiller and Novalis, Hegels thesis identifies the limitations that he
observes in art, maintaining a counter position to a romantic understanding of art as
superior to philosophy. Hegel observes his zeitgeist as heralding a departure from a
romantic understanding of art because of an emergent interest and preoccupation with
taste associated with 18th century British aesthetics. 80 Hegel distrusts this preoccupation,
maintaining that it demonstrates a schism in the previous relationship with art, stating,
Taste is directed only to the external surface on which feelings play, and continues,

73
George Wilhelm Frederick Hegel, Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Arts, trans T.M Knox (Oxford: The Clarendon
Press, 1975), 5 & 31
74
Danto, Hegel's End of Art Thesis, 5.
75
Hegel, Aesthetics, 31
76
Danto, Hegel's End of Art Thesis, 5.
77
Hegel, Aesthetics, 10.
78
Hegel, Aesthetics, 296-297
79
Danto, Hegel's End of Art Thesis, 6.
80
Aesthetics as an enquiry of taste and beauty was advanced by British philosophers including David Hume, The
Third Earl of Shaftsbury and Rev. Francis Hutcheson.

32
So-called good taste takes fright at all the deeper effects of art. 81 As a consequence,
Hegel believes art could no longer be conceived as a touchstone to the Absolute when
treated as an object of study. Furthermore, by defining art as the sensuous appearing of
the Idea Hegel positions art as inferior to philosophy because it is reliant on the
sensuous and thus transient. In the Hegelian sense, only ideas and speculative
philosophy can sever this connection and remain absolute. 82 By drawing a conclusion to
romanticism, Hegel posits art as a transitional stage within the history of self-
knowledge. Through this movement Hegel posits philosophy as superior to art by
claiming philosophy as the only discipline capable to engage with transcendental forms
of thought. Hegel defines his zeitgeist as announc[ing] a new age of reason, in which
thought is the substance of spirit. 83

Although Danto claims that one usually writes a narrative from a retrospective position,
he observes Hegels philosophy as coexistensive. Like Hegels enquiry into art, Dantos
is also coexistensive as his philosophical defence of his thesis, titled After the End of
Art, similarly belongs to the same history that it analyses. 84 Like Hegel, Danto also
defines the master narrative of the history of art as a series of eras identifying the first as
one of imitation and the following constituted by ideology. Danto develops this by
reflecting on his zeitgeist and observes that there are no longer any qualifications for art.
By defining his zeitgeist as post-historical Danto presents the end of this particular
historical narrative. However, rather than approaching the end of art as a nihilistic
project (in relation to the domain of art) he does not read this end as one of closure.
Instead he considers the post-historical as an end to art as it was previously configured,
one that liberates art from the constraints set by the terms of the previous artistic
configurations. If thought is the substance of spirit, as Hegel maintains, than the role of
art within the historical narrative may not necessarily be concluded under the new terms
of art.

To explicate how the post-historical situation opens up the possibilities of art Danto
looks to Warhols Brillo Box because it exemplifies an artwork that is impossible to

81
Hegel, Aesthetics, 34.
82
Bowie, Aesthetics and Subjectivity, 166.
83
Hegel, Aesthetics, 31.
84
To contextualise The End of Art: A Philosophical Defense, Danto references Hegels great commentator
Alexandre Kojve who observes the coextensive aspect of Hegels philosophy. Danto, The End of Art, 128.

33
differentiate from a non-art object. As Danto explains, nothing need mark the
difference, outwardly, between Warhol's Brillo Box and the Brillo boxes in the
supermarket. 85 For Danto Warhol's Brillo Box defies aesthetic interpretation in the way
that it complicates what qualifies as art. He articulates this simply by stating, So what
couldnt be an artwork for all one knew? The answer was that one could not tell by
looking. 86 Danto also looks to conceptual works, such as Pipers participatory work
Funk Lesson. This work took place over two years as a series of social events where the
artist, who is of black extraction taught white people the moves and history of funk.
Rather than offering a discrete form that might be readily interpreted through
conventional aesthetic categories Funk Lesson problematises the nature of art and
simultaneously complicates the role of aesthetics by introducing forms of activities such
as dance lessons that might be more readily associated with everyday activities.

Danto identifies a defining sense of disorder when describing the post-historical as a


situation in which anything goes. However rather than approaching this period of
information disorder in a pessimistic manner, Danto reflects on the emancipatory
capacity of the post-historical moment. 87 Through the artworks resistance to
categorisation, Danto conceives the primacy of art for thought. Within the aesthetic
entropy of the post-historical moment Danto identifies a single universal essence in the
plurality of contemporary art. This is outlined in his philosophical defence of his End of
Art thesis in 1999, which explains a contradictory aspect of seeing the possibility of a
single, universal concept only when extreme differences were available in art. 88 By
reflecting on the multifarious categories of art Danto identifies a single, universal
essence of art. Rather than seeking to entice the beholder with its external surface on
which feelings play, Danto maintains the universal essence in the post-historical is
precisely its capacity for thought. 89

Danto explains arts primacy for thought by observing how specific artworks such as
Marcel Duchamps readymade embody their own meaning. Although Duchamps first

85
Arthur C. Danto, After The End of Art, Contemporary Art and the Pale of History (USA: Princeton University
Press, 1997), 13.
86
Danto, The End of Art, 131.
87
Danto, After The End of Art, 47.
88
Danto, History and Theory, 128.
89
A similar reinterpretation of Hegels End of Art can also be registered in Kosuths essay, Art as Philosophy
(1969), which switches the terms of Hegels thesis by advancing art as the only discipline capable of a developed
engagement with abstract thought.

34
readymade pre-dates the artworks that Danto uses in his configuration of the post-
historical, he references this seminal artistic gesture because it heralds a new dialogue
between philosophy and art. 90 In presenting objects that could not be determined by
taste as good or bad, Duchamps readymade set the conditions that mark the
redundancy of formal aesthetics. Danto reflects on this moment in art practice as the
liberation of art because it can no longer be conceived under a metaphysical judisdiction
of philosophy. Similarly, with Warhols Brillo Box, Andres Bricks and Pipers Funk
Lesson it is impossible to know the meaning of art insofar as appearances are concerned
because anything could be a work of art. 91Danto observes that this resistance to
philosophical interpretation liberates art from philosophical oppression and in so
doing asserts its primacy for thought. 92

Dantos philosophical defence of his End of Art thesis published in 1998 claims, [t]his
is as much as philosophy can do for art to get it to realise its freedom. 93 However
many of Dantos commentators claim his thesis can be read as transforming art into a
philosophical enterprise. For example, Horowicz and Huhn claim Danto conflates art
with philosophy. They argue that instead of contesting Hegels thesis as the exaltation
of philosophy over art Dantos thesis conversely inscribes philosophy within the realm
of art by asserting that the philosophical concerns informing the readymade are
94
inscribed within the work itself. Instead of seeing this artistic gesture as a
philosophical liberation they describe it as a form of philosophical infection. 95 They
claim that in departing from an aesthetic model, which places philosophy outside of art,
it paradoxically reasserts philosophy within the immanent space of art.

Forsey examines the double movement in Dantos thesis in a comparative analysis of


The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art and After the End of Art. Forsey observes
how in The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art Danto claims art becomes
enfranchised when distanced from the constraining demands of philosophical analysis.

90
As Danto states, I owe to Duchamp the thought that from the perspective of art, aesthetics is in danger, since from
the perspective of philosophy art is in danger and aesthetics the agency for dealing with it. Danto, History and
Theory, 20.
91
Danto, After The End of Art, 13.
92
Danto, The End of Art, 131.
93
Danto, The End of Art, 134.
Gregg Horowitz and Tom Huhn, The Wake of Art, Criticism, Philosophy, and the Ends of Taste (New York:
Routledge, 1998).14.
94
Forsey, Philosophical Disenfranchisement in Danto's "End of Art", 403.
95
Horowitz and Huhn, The Wake of Art, 20.

35
In After the End of Art she maintains Danto reduces the artwork to a philosophical
enterprise by describing art as looking into the mirror and seeing philosophy as its own
reflection. 96 Although these papers were published at the same time they were not
considered in conjunction within the philosophical academic arena. Despite the apparent
contradictions, Forsey maintains that Danto had intended that they be considered
together, quoting Danto who claimed that these papers form a natural narrative order
as though they were chapters in a single book with an overarching theme. 97 Forsey
suggests that these papers were disassociated from each other because they were
assumed to be contradictory. Forseys analysis of these papers reveals that the
engagement between art and philosophy in art practice is complex by identifying how
Danto simultaneously conceives an ejection and integration of philosophy within his
reading of art.

There are different readings of the relationship between art and philosophy that conflate
the discipline. In the previous discussion I identify three, they are Kosuths reading of
art as philosophy, Art and Languages reading of philosophy as art and Steinweigs
understanding that both are analogous. Similarly Dantos thesis can be approached as
conflating art with philosophy. The problem with Dantos thesis for a contemporary
reading of art is that he disavows experience from the realm of art by claiming that to
find arts meaning one has to turn from sense experience to thought. 98

By disavowing the role of experience in the reception of work and the formation of
thought, Dantos thesis can be approached as aligning with a strong or exclusive
conceptual reading of art as an analytical exercise. As detailed previously Osborne
raises the issue with an exclusive conceptual reading of art as an analytical enterprise
because it closes down the possibility of art to engender thought on an experiential
level. As outlined in the previous discussion Osbornes observation of the difficulty in
abstracting thought from the artistic form and Fosters identification of the role of
perception in the encounter with art demonstrates a link between thought and
experience. These readings, coupled with my reflections on my post-conceptual practice

96
Forsey, Philosophical Disenfranchisement, 403.
97
Forsey, Philosophical Disenfranchisement, 408-409.
98
Danto, After the End of Art, 14.

36
detailed in the following chapter present the counter argument that thought engendered
by art that is determined by and dependant on experience.

1.5 Summary

By examining how developments in art practice instigated a radically new relationship


between art and philosophy than the engagement designated by aesthetics, this analysis
of contemporary art is presented to contextualise the questions that the enquiry seeks to
address, namely, what is the engagement between contemporary art and philosophy,
how might we approach the artwork as activating thought, and what is the role of
experience?

The prcis on aesthetics provided at the start of this chapter does not seek to present or
argue for a definitive framework for aesthetics but seeks to present how the discourse
emerged and continues to evolve. This prcis also aims contextualise the contentious,
but constant, bind between art and aesthetics.

Reflecting on the fraught and undeniable relationship between art practice and
aesthetics through Osborne, Foster and Dantos readings inform the development of the
enquiry by addressing the complex engagement between contemporary art and
philosophy. The discussions in this chapter reveal the impossibility of resolving this
complexity, by detailing a tendency by some to conflate the two domains, and the desire
by others to fulfil the impossible task of separating them. However, as detailed in this
analysis, this ambiguous engagement between art and philosophy presents the
possibility of art as a domain for thought.

That art is a domain for thought is suggested by Osbornes identification of the


conceptuality of contemporary art, Fosters recognition of perception within our
encounter and Dantos theoretical manoeuvre of relocating thought from the realm of
philosophy to the domain of art. 99 As noted, Dantos disavowal of the role of experience
in the reception of work and the formation of thought necessitates further investigation

99
Osborne, Contemporary Art is Post-Conceptual, 10.

37
into the experiential dimension and its potential bearing on thought which I undertake in
the following chapter through an analysis of my post-conceptual practice.

This analysis of the complex engagement between contemporary art and philosophy
also ensures a more robust and informed analysis of my post-conceptual practice and
the research project. By relating how aesthetics was interrogated through art and how
the notion that art is a domain for thought was realised through art practice, this chapter
also aims to substantiate the methodology of this enquiry through practice. The
following chapter focuses on my post-conceptual practice to examine the complex
engagement between art and philosophy.

38
CHAPTER TWO: THE ENTWINEMENT OF ART AND PHILOSOPHY IN A POST-
CONCEPTUAL PRACTICE

2.0 Overview

This enquiry originates from a post-conceptual art practice and it is carried out through
such a practice. The thesis presents the motivations for conducting this enquiry and
details the questions driving the enquiry that ask: What is the relationship between art
and philosophy in my post-conceptual practice? How might my artworks raise
philosophical ideas and thought? What is the nature of this thought?

This chapter reflects on three key artworks that exemplify my practice prior to the
research project. There are broadly two parts to this chapter, each part containing an
account of artworks and two reflective discussions. The first part focuses on the
drawings The Clear Apprehension of Ones Own Limitations (2003) and Mapping
Nihilion (2005). Two discussions detail my post-conceptual practice through these
works. The first reflective discussion introduces the term entwinement, a key term of the
enquiry to articulate the specific engagement between art and philosophy that is
sustained by my practice. I reflect on my practice as a space for thought because it
allows me to engage with philosophical ideas. In observing how the thinking
engendered through my practice is specific I introduce the provisional claim that the
thinking raised by art is bound with experience. The second discussion introduces the
term liminality and describes how I use this anthropological term in my practice to
engage with the existential question of being. I detail how this term provides sufficient
latitude to reflect on the content of my work (the existential thought that informs the
content of the work and representations of indeterminate states, such as black holes, star
clusters, etc.) and the context of my work (the experiential state that arises out of the
activity of my practice). I outline how my engagement with liminality initiated an
emergent concern in my practice with experience.

The second part of this chapter focuses on the first iteration of Metaphysical Longings
(2006). The first discussion reflects on this work to outline how the event developed
from a subsidiary feature of my practice to an artistic form in its own right.

39
The second discussion discloses how the working definition of the research project
evolved from the ambition to enact other spaces. I outline how I formulated this term by
reflecting on the processes used in Metaphysical Longings that seek to enact a space of
thought for others through a more direct engagement with liminality. I focus on two
processes that are used in Metaphysical Longings to enact an other space: a technique
of guided visualization that I borrow from the practice of yoga nidra and a process of
staging. These processes that emerge out of my practice are described in detail because
they are employed and developed in the subsequent event-based works that constitute
the research project.

2.1 The Clear Apprehension of Ones Own Limitations and Mapping Nihilion

Figure 1: The Clear Apprehension of Ones Own Limitations (2003).


Unframed drawing (43.5 cm x 140 cm).

The Clear Apprehension is a long, narrow length of paper that is heavily rendered
with intricate graphite marks using a .25 mm clutch pencil (Fig.1). This drawing
comprises over seventy-five philosophical statements on the subject of being, existence
and knowledge. These statements are carefully linked together in a mind map. This
strangely rendered web of proclamations floats over a surface of tiny stars that appear
from clusters of erratically rendered graphite marks. The name Husserl transcribed in
the bottom right corner suggests a link with phenomenology (Fig. 2). The statement
circling his name reads, Most of his projects are concerned with picturing an ideal
programme rather than with its execution. This quote appears to be lifted from some
form of introduction to phenomenology. Other statements that relate to phenomenology

40
and are more than likely quoted from Husserls writings, include, There is no original
root, no single basic concept but an entire field of original experience and We have to
return to the world as it manifests itself in a primordial experience, we must endeavour
to find a natural world, the world of immediate experience (Fig 3). 100

Figures 2 & 3: The Clear Apprehension of Ones Own Limitations (2003) (detail).

Juxtaposed with these statements on phenomenology are others referring to truth and
knowledge, existentialism, critical theory and eastern philosophy; for example, the term
Empirical knowledge links to a statement that describes a psychological position,
The crises of disorientation. This in turn links Baudrillards statement, This is
precisely the haemorrhage of reality, as internal coherence of a limited universe when
its limits retreat infinitely, taken from his essay The Orders of Simulacra, which then
links to a retrospective anecdotal conjecture from an unknown source of the fallout of
the atom bomb: When they started doing experiments the scientists were wary that the
atomic explosion would cause every atom to explode, like domino effect, and ultimately
the whole world, nay universe, would be annihilated, this statement links to another
statement associated with Buddhist philosophy: Part of the essence of being it appears
is impermanence, leading to an existential statement that floats in an empty space in
the bottom right-hand corner that reads, Why attempt to repair meaning when
meaningless existence is guaranteed? To counter this position a statement by the
psychologist in Tarkovskys film Solaris reads, but we need secrets to preserve simple

100
I cannot reference these quotes because their source was never recorded. I cannot locate them now because they
have been transcribed incorrectly. This actuality is recorded and will be reflected on in the following discussion that
analyses how my approach to philosophy through art practice differs from an academic approach to philosophy.

41
human truths (Fig. 4, 5, 6). 101 The Clear Apprehension appears incomplete - not only
because it is presented unframed and pinned to the wall but also because the bottom
right corner suggests that the task of transcription appears to have been abandoned.

Figures 4, 5 & 6: The Clear Apprehension of Ones Own Limitations (2003) (detail).

Mapping Nihilion is a framed drawing on a large 167 cm by 68 cm sheet of gridded


paper (Fig. 10). Like The Clear Apprehension this drawing also is composed of
erratic marks made by a .25 cm clutch pencil that depict a section of the universe. The
drawing takes up only a third of the surface area of the paper. However, although the
paper is predominantly empty the drawing of the universe is more complex than The
Clear Apprehension because it not only depicts stars but phenomena that include
supernovas and black holes. A hand-drawn outline demarcates the drawing on three
sides, but no line demarcates the top of the drawing, giving the impression of
incompleteness. This is enhanced by an empty space in the centre of the drawing that
bears the trace of heavily rendered marks that appear to have been frantically erased.
(Fig. 7, 8 & 9)

Figures 7, 8 & 9: Mapping Nihilion (detail).

101
Stanislaw Lem and Fridrikh Gorenshteyn, Solaris, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972.

42
Figure 10: Mapping Nihilion (2005).
Documentation of drawing in progress, artists studio, VCCA, Virginia, USA

There is less text in Mapping Nihilion than The Clear Apprehension, instead of
seventy-five disparate statements this work features a single short paragraph that is
carefully transcribed in a scroll in the bottom right-hand corner. This scroll has the
appearance of those represented on early maps predating the 20th century. However,
unlike captions on maps, which provide factual information, the caption on this scroll is
a quote (Fig. 11). This quote is transcribed from a translation of Sartres Being and
Nothingness (1969). A heavily pencilled dark blob obliterates the top edge of the scroll
and partially covers some of the letters. 102

Figure 11: Mapping Nihilion (detail).

102
The text in the scroll reads: The Being by which Nothingness appears in the world must nihilate Nothingness in
its Being and even so it still runs the risk of establishing Nothingness as a transcendent in the very heart of
immanence unless it nihilates Nothingness in connection with its own being
The text is recorded in this footnote as it appears in the drawing. Note the misuse of capital N.
Jean-Paul Sartre, The Origin of Negation, in Being and Nothingness: A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology,
(Northampton: John Dickens & Co. Ltd., 1969), 23.

43
2.1.1 A Post-Conceptual Practice - An Entwinement of Art and Philosophy

My post-conceptual practice is not centred on the production of works of art. I approach


my practice as a way to engage with the question of being, a question that is also
addressed through existentialism and phenomenology. I describe The Clear
Apprehension and Mapping Nihilion artefacts because they attest to my endeavour to
engage with philosophical ideas. In this way the drawings are best understood as an
open process because they emerged out of a practice that is motivated by experimental
forms of enquiry over the creation of artworks. 103 This practice is distinguished by a
multi-layered process encompassing drawing, reading and reflecting on philosophy. The
tripartite process, of reading, rendering and reflecting can be approached as a symbiotic
engagement where activities associated with art making and those associated with
philosophical enquiry are equally weighted and necessary. I identify this particular
engagement between art and philosophy in my practice as an entwinement.

The Clear Apprehension and Mapping Nihilion present a radically different


engagement between art and philosophy that is designated by aesthetics. Philosophy is
not deployed to interpret these works. Philosophy is implicit in their production. This is
made explicit by the statements in each drawing and by the titles that are borrowed from
philosophical texts. It is also important to note that philosophy does not merely inform
the work. The Clear Apprehension and Mapping Nihilion do not illustrate particular
philosophical thoughts or ideas but attest to my working through particular
philosophical ideas.

This process of working through philosophical ideas is revealed in The Clear


Apprehension Although Husserls name features in The Clear Apprehension this
work does not systematically present or illustrate Husserls thoughts (Fig. 12) or
provide a diagrammatic rendition of phenomenology. The expansive range of ideas
encompassing phenomenology, existentialism, scientific thought and eastern philosophy

103
This understanding that process constitutes the artistic form is exemplified by Morriss exhibition Continuous
Project Altered (1969). Describing this work, Morris maintains that the process becom[es] part of the work itself.
This notion of the artwork as a process has been described succinctly by Morris in his reflections of Continuous
Project Altered Daily (1969), at Leo Castelli Warehouse Gallery, New York. He states, As ends and means are more
unified, as process becomes part of the work instead of prior to it, one is enabled to engage more directly in the world
of art making Robert Morris, Some Notes on the Phenomenology of Making: The Search for the Motivated, 92,
quoted in Jon Bird, Minding the Body: Robert Morris's 1971 Tate Gallery Retrospective, in Rewriting Conceptual
Art, ed. Michael Newman and Jon Bird, 88-107 (London: Reaktion Books, 1999), 96.

44
further complicates matters. The Clear Apprehension reveals a notable difference
between the practice of making art and undertaking theoretical research, philosophical
or otherwise. The sources of the seventy-five statements that feature in this work are not
specified or referenced correctly as demonstrated by my inability to reference Husserls
statements transcribed in the work (see footnote 102). It is important to record this
because it demonstrates how my engagement with philosophy differs from an academic
approach to philosophy that demands a strict practice of referencing. This omission
demonstrates how an engagement with philosophy in my art practice differs from an
engagement with philosophy in the academy, as it does not strictly adhere to the
protocols associated with the discipline of philosophy. I have been unable to locate
these two particular statements of Husserls because they have been transcribed
incorrectly. In an academic context this lack of rigour would make the work redundant,
however, within the domain of art this in fact plays a role in the operation of the work.
Because The Clear Apprehension was made almost ten years ago it is difficult to
source the seventy-five quotes rendered on the page for this formal enquiry. There are
other crucial aspects of work that distance it from a strictly academic or fully rational
enterprise. Unlike an academic text the primary source material and secondary sources
are given equal weight. For example, the statement reading, With the consciousness of
the death of God, the true world is revealed as fable is not a direct quote of Nietzsche,
but Simon Critchleys analysis of Nietzsches interpretation of nihilism in Very Little
Almost Nothing (2004). The inclusion of quotes from films and my own sentiments
complicates a clear reading of this work.

Although covering a wide range of discourse seems an unconventional method of


conducting philosophical enquiry, this approach allows me to immerse myself in a freer
and more explorative mode of enquiry. My enquiry through practice is not carried out to
prove a point, argue a philosophical position or stake my claim to a theory. Through my
practice I seek to explore and consider our place in the world and the indeterminate
nature of existence. The drawings attest to and emerge out of the tripartite process of
reading, reflecting and rendering allowed me to distil ideas and develop my thoughts
around the notion of being the and indeterminate nature of existence.

I maintain, that this notion of indeterminacy that is bound up with the human condition
and which I explore through my practice became manifest in the drawings as they

45
emerged. In order to engage with the existential question of being I devised a method of
capturing key ideas by transcribing quotes and statements onto large sheets of paper.
Capturing these abstract thoughts gave me sense of control by allowing me to reflect on
them without the worry of their disappearing (as they would if I had confined them to
memory). The more philosophy I read, the more apparent it became how little I actually
knew. These drawings attested to my attempts to grapple and engage and with these
philosophical ideas.

In the case of The Clear Apprehension giving these abstract thoughts a physical
presence enabled me to reflect more deeply on the indeterminate nature of existence by
aligning these statements with others. Through drawing I formed new associations that
became manifest in the web-like structure. The drawing offered an alternate perspective
from which to engage with the notion of indeterminacy by connecting ideas associated
with phenomenology, existentialism and eastern philosophy. In this way, statements
such as Human existence precedes essence were literally linked with the claim that
The subject on the other hand is pure consciousness(Fig. 13). 104 The drawing
provided a point of entry to reflect on the indeterminate nature of existence by
juxtaposing ideas associated with phenomenology, existential discourse and eastern
philosophy in a more immediate and physical capacity.

Figures 12 & 13: The Clear Apprehension of Ones Own Limitations (2003) (detail).

Phenomenology and existentialism are separate systems of philosophical thought.


However they are linked in that existentialism is informed by and develops from

104
As noted in footnote 102 as I was not in the practice of referencing quotations, as say an academic scholar, I am
now ten years later, unable to locate the source. This omission demonstrates how an engagement with philosophy in
my art practice differs from an engagement with philosophy in the academy, in the manner that it does not strictly
adhere to the protocols associated with the discipline of philosophy.

46
phenomenology. Phenomenology seeks to avoid presuppositions by locating the source
of knowledge in the subjects experience. Existentialism is also centred on the agency
of subject and through the premise that the individual is free establishes that there are no
universal truths. 105 During this period I was also developing my understanding of truth
by looking to Eastern philosophy, focusing on the teachings of Jiddu Krishnamurti, who
famously rejected the notion of truth. 106 I was looking also to the teachings of the
Buddhist scholar S.N. Goenka to develop my understanding of existence, through his
interpretation of impermanence. 107 This notion of impermanence and indeterminacy at
the core of Buddhist thought can also be registered in the concerns of existentialism.

The notion of indeterminacy is suggested by the reference to Sartres Being and


Nothingness in Mapping Nihilion. Sartres complex articulation of being and
nothingness confounded me in a similar manner to the notion of impermanence and
indeterminacy that I perceived when contemplating the limitlessness of the universe.
My uncertainty of Sartres existential conception of uncertainty mirrored the uncertain
nature of the universe. This notion of indeterminacy is also articulated by the word
nihilion that I borrow from Simon Critchleys preamble Travels in Nihilion in his
book Very Little Almost Nothing (2004). 108 Very Little Almost Nothing outlines the
central motivations of the philosophers meditation on death and his attempt to find
meaning to human finitude. This book engages with nihilism through the philosophy of
Nietzsche and Heidegger and writings of Blanchot and Beckett. The term nihilion
articulated my experience of attempting to grapple with the philosophical question of
being while providing an appropriate term to describe my chaotic drawing that depicted
an expansive and vast universe.

105
See Kearney, Phenomenolgy, in Modern Movements in European Philosophy, 1-113.
106
The Order of the Star of the East was founded in 1911 to proclaim the coming of the World Spiritual Leader J.
Krishnamurti was made head of the order. On August 2, 1929 at the inauguration of the Annual Star Camp at
Ommen, Holland, Krishnamurti dissolved the order before the three thousand members who had gathered. The
following quote is taken from his speech: I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any
path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect Truth being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path
whatsoever, cannot be organised; nor should any organization be formed to lead or coerce people along any particular
path. For more on the life and teachings of Krishnamurti see Mary Lutyens, Krishnamurti: the Years of Awakening
(Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications, 1975), 272.
107
This interest in yoga and meditation stems from my sustained practice of yoga and meditation since 1998. I had
also been exploring Vipassan meditation through the non-sectarian teachings of S.N. Goenka. Vipassan meditation
is performed in order to observe at the deepest level the constantly changing nature of the mind and body. S.N.
Goenka describes anicca (impermanence) as fundamental to existence. He references the Bubble Chamber, an
instrument that demonstrates how in one second a single atomic particle arises and vanishes.
108
Simon Critchley, Preamble: Travels in Nihilion, in Very Little, Almost Nothing (New York: Routledge, 2004).

47
Mapping Nihilion was produced three years after The Clear Apprehension while on
residency at the VCCA, (Virginia Centre for Creative Arts), US. Prior to this research
trip, I had developed a process of imagining the universe by drawing exploding comets,
black holes and sections of the night sky as a way of approaching ideas of being and
existence. My intention for the six-week residency was to dedicate myself to drawing
the night sky using a systematic approach, placing myself in the same location each
night to ensure an accurate representation. However, although I was based in the
countryside there was so much light pollution that it was impossible for me to see any
constellations. I found a tiny black-and-white photograph of the Milky Way (4cm x 9
cm) and set myself a new task of mapping this onto a large sheet of gridded paper
measuring 167 cm x 68 cm (Fig. 14, 15). 109 I used a magnifying glass to carry out the
time-consuming and slightly absurd task. After some days I began to question my
motives what was the purpose of this work? What was the purpose of recreating an
image that already existed? Annoyed at undertaking such a purposeless project I
frantically began erasing the drawing, deciding it would be better to have a drawing of
nothing. Erasing the heavy pencil marks was difficult and tiring and after a short period
of time I stopped. On returning I was confronted by an ill-defined gap that ruptured the
drawing to form a void (Fig. 7).

Figure 14: Work in progress, mapping image onto a large sheet of gridded paper.
Artists studio, VCCA, Virginia, USA.

Figure 15: Published photograph: J.R. Eyerman, News Bureau California Institute of
Technology Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories.

109
This image can be found in David Bergamini and the Editors of Time-Life Books, The Universe, ed. David
Bergamini and the Editors of Time-Life Books (New York: Time-Life Books, 1973) 166.

48
Why present an unfinished drawing as a map, and why caption this map with a literary
quote relating to the ontological problem of being? Although the cartographic motifs
lend a map-like appearance to this drawing, it is clear that Mapping Nihilion cannot
serve the function of a conventional map because it lacks the necessary requirement of
precision and exactitude. The hand-drawn lines, the roughly rendered depictions of
stars, the erratic marks, the strange rupture in the centre of this incomplete drawing
coupled with the fact that the legend presents Sartres statement on nothingness
renders this map ineffective. The fact that this drawing does not map a particular place
enhances the irrational quality and Sartres quote intensifies the strangeness of a
drawing that attempts to map such an indeterminate realm.

Although Mapping Nihilion originally sought to map a physical space (the milky way),
the juxtaposition of artistic processes and philosophical enquiry disrupts a clear reading
of this work. Instead of producing a clear cartographic map, this drawing portrays my
grappling with the scale of the universe coupled with the existential notion of being and
nothingness. The sense of indeterminacy becomes revealed through the drawings
execution. The unedited mistakes in Mapping Nihilion, the blot of the scroll, the erased
marks and the naively rendered stars also undermine a sense of certainty. The rupture in
the centre of the drawing can be read as presenting an interruption to the process, a
hesitation to completing the work. However, that the work is incomplete is not a
shortcoming, on the contrary, this quality lends to the logic of the work.

I approach the unedited and incomplete quality of both Mapping Nihilion and The Clear
Apprehension as advancing the internal logic of these works - a logic that occurs
through the process of art making itself. The drawings present the limitations of my
personal enquiry of existential philosophy. The illogical web-like structure in The Clear
Apprehension also conveys a sense of disorder that articulates my grappling with this
philosophical system of thought. I construe the pieces of text floating in an unfinished
depiction of the universe act as symbolically representing forms (both planetary and
abstract ideas) beyond my reach. The fact that the drawing stops in the right-hand
corner of the work gives the impression that the task has not reached fruition, that there
is more work to be done and that these thoughts need further development. The
incompleteness of these works implicitly suggests the notion of indeterminacy that
existentialism addresses.

49
My practice provides a domain or space where I can engage with philosophical ideas
and questions. However, I differentiate the thinking that takes place in and through my
practice from more analytical forms of enquiry by reflecting on the processes in my
practice that lead me to think. Rather than presenting an idea that is developed through a
system of logical analysis, my processes of reading and rendering over protracted
periods of time generated a way of thinking that differed from rational thought
processes. The curator Hendel Teicher describes a similar process through the practice
of Emma Kunz (1892-1963) (Fig.16). Teicher raises the notion of thinking through
drawing, proposing that Kunz generated her own form of thinking through this
physical activity. 110 It is significant that Kunz also approached her practice as a form of
enquiry, a process of research and discovery. She describes this in her self-published
books Miracle of Creative Revelation and New Methods of Drawing in 1953 111 (Fig.
17). By this Kunz was referring to the result of her combined process of action and
contemplation, which resulted in complex geometrical forms.

Figure 16: Emma Kunz at her worktable, Waldstatt, 1958.


Figure 17: Emma Kunz, Work No 086, n.d.
Drawing: Pencil, coloured pencil and oil pastel on graph paper.

Similarly my process of action and contemplation, the transcription of philosophical


statements coupled with the process of rendering stars allowed me to further
contemplate and explore notions of being and existence. The process of rendering
intricate stars, formed as tiny empty gaps between tiny pencil marks, carved out a

110
The subtitle of the exhibition is derived from the title of Kunz book. Catherine de Zegher and Hendel Teicher ,
eds., 3 x Abstraction, New Methods of Drawing, Hilma Af Klint, Emma Kunz, Agnes Martin, ed. (New York, The
Drawing Centre and Yale University Press, 2005)
111
de Zegher and Teicher, 3 x Abstraction, 129.

50
specific time where I could engage on a deeper level with philosophical thought. My
compulsion to render vast tracts of the universe resulted in my working into the early
hours of the morning. Kunz also worked through the night working to a state of near
exhaustion in order to produce her drawings in a single session. Unlike Kunz I failed to
complete my drawings in a single session. However, like Kunz, who regarded her
practice as a means to channel energy, I also consider the active and contemplative
attributes of the processes as absolutely necessary. This time consuming process of
reading and rendering intricate text and stars enabled me to approach ideas relating to
existence and impermanence in a more direct capacity by allowing me to experience a
strange existential state of distance and remove. In a way, my practice carved out a
temporality that not only gave me time for reflection and also induced me to think in a
very particular way. The particularity of my thought was bound with my experiential
state, inducing a more perceptive and imaginative form of thought. Although this way
of thinking is not systematic, it is specific in the way that it unfolds in an indeterminate
manner.

Because these drawing directly reference philosophical ideas, they could potentially
raise these ideas in others who might encounter these works. However because these
ideas are presented in the context of a drawing they invariably encourage a different
form of engagement with these ideas than an academic text. Because The Clear
Apprehension and Mapping Nihilion do not make clearly worked out arguments, as
one would expect in an academic text. The juxtaposition of fragments of philosophical
thought suspended in the night sky in The Clear Apprehension and the caption on a
map that allude to nothingness in Mapping Nihilion resists logical analysis. Instead of
engaging with these works in a purely logic or rational way, these drawings require
another form of engagement and require a different way of thinking. As noted above, I
register that my art practice provides a space to think about philosophical ideas in a
particular way. These insights gained from reflecting on my practice and my drawings
prompt the question driving the enquiry that asks, how might an artwork offer a space to
think about philosophical ideas and what would be the particularity of such thought?

51
2.1.2 A Post-Conceptual Practice - Engaging With Liminality

As noted in the previous discussion, I use my practice to explore and engage with the
indeterminate nature of existence. Liminality, as conceived in anthropology offered a
valuable resource to engage with the existential question of being driving my
practice.112 The discussion also outlines how this term provided enough latitude to
reflect on the content of the work, (the philosophical ideas that I was recording and also
the physical spaces that I was rendering) and my art practice in general.

The French anthropologist Arnold van Gennep first used the term liminal in Les Rites
de Passage (1909). 113 Although there was a range of similar studies on ritual conducted
during this period, van Gennep identified forms of ceremonial rites as marking
significant transitions to the social status of individuals. Van Gennep observed these
rites as both demonstrating and authenticating transformation in an individuals status
and proposed that embedded within the structure of the ritual is a systemic pattern that
enacts and enables these rites of transition. Van Gennep identified the structure of the
ritual as constituted by three stages: separation, segregation, and integration. This
movement is affected by a particular moment that is made manifest in the ritual. Van
Gennep identified this tri-partite structure as the liminal stage, the pivotal moment in
ritual. Van Gennep marks the liminal stage as the crucial stage within the ritual by
naming the stages before and after as pre-liminal and post-liminal. For example, in the
case of a teenage boy undergoing rites to initiate him into adulthood, the pre-liminal
designates the initial stage of ritual where the initiate is removed from the space of the
everyday and the post-liminal stage, or final stage of ritual which facilitates the
reintegration of the transformed individual back into the social order. As noted in the
Introduction, the term liminal is derived from the Latin limnal, meaning threshold.
Transgression is implied by this term that foregrounds some kind of departure or
crossing over of boundaries. Van Gennep observed how key stages in ritual
symbolically removed initiates from their everyday experience. This movement is
mainly initiated through an intensification of experience. Because the liminal stage in
112
Tina Kinsella, Deep Mapping the City: A Matrixial Topography of Liminality. Accessed 21st November 2014.
http://tinakinsella.wordpress.com/deep-mapping-the-city-a-matrixial-topography-of-liminality/
113
Arnold Van Gennep, The Rites of Passage (London: Routledge, 2004). Van Gennep is now recognised as a key
thinker within ritual theory because of his identification of the liminal. However, prior to Turners re-introduction of
liminality van Gennep was not widely known, mainly because Emile Durkheim, the most prolific ethnographer,
ostracised Van Gennep from the academic circle in France. For more on this please see Rosemary Zumwalt, Arnold
van Gennep: The Hermit of Bourg-la-Reine, American Anthropologist (American Anthropological Association), 84,
no. 2 (June 1982): 299-313.

52
ritual designates a temporal, symbolic, indeterminate state that exists outside of and
beyond normative structures it is understood as other. 114

However, liminality did not gain currency in the field of anthropology and the wider
cultural domain until the late 1960s. The Scottish anthropologist Victor Turner re-
introduced and elaborated liminality in The Ritual Process (1969). 115 Turner introduced
the term structure to designate the values and the normative mode of social interaction
and the term societas to describe an interpretation of a standard form of community.
The first is of society as a structured, differentiated, and often hierarchical system of
political-legal-economic positions with many types of evaluation, separating men in
terms of more or less. 116 As their respective counterparts he proposes anti-structure
and communitas. Turner maintained the concurrent formation of anti-structure and
communitas in the symbolic liminal stage. Turner observed that within ritual the
participants undergoing the initiation rites are literally stripped of the vestiges that
symbolically represent their position within society. 117 Without physical trappings and
through their collective display of an abandonment of status the participants unite to
form a non-hierarchical social group. Communitas designates a communion of equal
individuals. This disregard of status forms an anti-structure where normative social
values no longer apply. 118 Turners extension of the term communitas (which he had
originally coined to designate participants undergoing ritual initiation in a tribal context)
to specific groups within contemporary western society, such as the counter culture
movement of the 1960s, extended the currency of the term liminality beyond
anthropology to the wider field of socio-political and cultural theory. His interpretation
of liminality as betwixt and between further extended the applicability of the term for

114
Colin Turnbull, Liminality: A Synthesis of Subjective and Objective Experience, in By Means of Performance,
ed. Wila and Schechner, Richard Appel, (Cambridge University Press, 1990), 80.
115
Victor Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure (New Brunswick and London: Aldine
Transaction, 1969). This publication is based on Turners fieldwork while living with the Ndembu tribe of North
Western Zambia.
116
Victor Turner, Liminality and Community, in Culture and Society, Contemporary Debates, ed. Jeffrey C.
Alexander and Steven Seidman (Melbourne, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 148.
117
Turner, The Ritual Process, 108 & 169.
118
Turner maintained the concurrent formation of anti-structure and communitas in the symbolic liminal stage.
Turner observed that within ritual the participants undergoing the initiation rites are literally stripped of the vestiges
that symbolically represent their position within society. Without physical trappings and through their collective
display of an abandonment of status the participants unite to form a non-hierarchical social group. Communitas
designates a communion of equal individuals. This disregard of status forms an anti-structure where normative social
values no longer apply. Turner extended the term communitas (that he originally coined to designate participants
undergoing ritual initiation in a tribal context), to specific groups within his own contemporary western society, such
as the counter culture movement of the 1960s. In this way Turner instigated the currency of liminality beyond the
field of ethnography and anthropology to the wider field of socio-political and cultural theory. Turner, The Ritual
Process, 96.

53
disciplines ranging from theatre studies, gender studies, sociology, geography, geo-
politics, etc., to interpret situations of indeterminacy. 119

The liminal has been instrumental within the area of performance art and performance
theory. 120 The theatre director Richard Schechner looked to Turners research and his
development of liminality to thematise aspects of experimental theatre and later
collaborated with Turner to explore the overlap between theatre and ritual. This
collaboration resulted in the emergence of performance studies in the 1970s.121
Performance art of the late 1960s / early 1970s can be positioned within the dialogue
between performance studies and critical artistic practice. Emerging performance
practices during this period which engaged directly with liminality are exemplified by
Marina Abramovicz, Chris Burden and the Viennese Actionists: Gnter Brus, Otto
Mhl and Rudolf Schwarzkogler. 122 By subjecting themselves to situations of danger
and/or mutilation these practices are understood to induce trance like state through an
intensification of experience. These gestures physically display a form of abandonment,
presenting the body in an indeterminate state that Turner describes in ritual theory as
betwixt and between. 123 The term liminality articulated this state that was presented,

119
In the Foreword to The Ritual Process Roger D. Abrahams describes how Turners identification of betwixt and
between states became a theoretical resource to describe other cultures. Turner, The Ritual Process, viii. The
expansion of the term liminality to other areas of discourse is the subject of the conference Liminality and Cultures of
Change, 2009, hosted by Cambridge University. This conference is dedicated to the exploration of the liminality
paradigm as a conceptual tool and theoretical perspective for grasping moments of transformation of social, political
and cultural life (Harald Dr. Wyd, The Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities,
http://www.crassh.cam.ac.uk /page/333/february-liminality.htm. (May 31, 2011). Bjorn Thomassens recent typology
also demonstrates the expansion of the term. His typology outlines the different applications of liminality, through its
conceptual foundation in anthropology to the understanding of it in relation to civilisation dynamics. He observes
how the theoretical use of the term ranges from describing the individual to whole societies and polities. Bjrn
Thomassen, The Encyclopaedia of Social Theory (London, USA: Routledge, 2006). The term liminal is now
frequently used in the area of the social sciences to interpret situations of political/social flux (i.e. borders, war zones,
refugee camps, etc.) and other more abstract spaces of online activity. For more on liminality in relation to war zones,
refugee camps and borders, see Jasper Balduk, On liminality, Conceptualizing in-between-ness', Master Thesis of
Human Geography (Nijmegen, June 2008) and in relation to online activity and social networking M. Savin-Baden,
After the death of privacy: Liminal states and spatial identities in Threshold Concepts Symposium (Ontario:
Queens University, Kingston, 2008).
120
For example see: Susan Broadhurst, Liminal Acts: A Critical Overview of Performance and Theory (London, New
York: Cassell, 1999).
121
Schechner set up the first department of Performance Studies at the New York University in 1970.
122
For more on the theorization of the Viennese Actionists and liminality see Broadhurst, Liminal Acts, 99-109
123
In the Foreword to The Ritual Process Roger D. Abrahams describes how Turners identification of betwixt and
between states became a theoretical resource to describe other cultures. Turner, The Ritual Process, viii. The
expansion of the term liminality to other areas of discourse is the subject of the conference Liminality and Cultures of
Change, 2009, hosted by Cambridge University. This conference is dedicated to the exploration of the liminality
paradigm as a conceptual tool and theoretical perspective for grasping moments of transformation of social, political
and cultural life (Harald Dr Wyd, The Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities,
http://www.crassh.cam.ac.uk /page/333/february-liminality.htm. (May 31, 2011). Bjorn Thomassens recent typology
also demonstrates the expansion of the term. His typology outlines the different applications of liminality, through its
conceptual foundation in anthropology to the understanding of it in relation to civilisation dynamics. He observes
how the theoretical use of the term ranges from describing the individual to whole societies and polities. Bjrn
Thomassen, The Encyclopaedia of Social Theory (London, USA: Routledge, 2006). The term liminal is now

54
both on a physical and symbolic level through these performative gestures.

Liminality is instrumental in my post-conceptual practice because it offers an additional


perspective to engage with the notion of being, particularly the quality of indeterminacy
that I had been exploring through philosophical enquiry. My interest in liminality
developed out of an engagement with the philosophical category of the sublime.124
Although the sublime experience and the liminal state are not interchangeable terms
they both suggest an intensification of experience in the subject that is described as a
state of suspension. This likeness in meaning is not unfounded as they share the term
limnal in their etymology. How natural phenomena such as expansive night skies, vast
oceans and magnificent mountain ranges induce a feeling of suspension and
indeterminacy has been theorised in philosophy, primarily in the writings of Edmund
Burke (1729-1797), scientist and physician Thomas Addison (1793-1860), and
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), who developed the category of the sublime by
systematically linking it with an experiential state. Addison designates the sublime a
feeling of terror and awe, neither one feeling nor the other but an unsettling amalgam of
two distinct experiences. Susan Broadhursts elaboration of Turners notion of the
liminal state as betwixt and between, as a moment when feelings close to disquiet
and discomfort are experienced can be read in close alignment with Addisons
description of the sublime experience. 125 I am not trying to conflate the sublime with
liminality. I am merely reflecting back on my practice during this period to outline how
the research project emerged.

frequently used in the area of the social sciences to interpret situations of political/social flux (i.e. borders, war zones,
refugee camps, etc.) and other more abstract spaces of online activity. For more on liminality in relation to war zones,
refugee camps and borders, see Jasper Balduk, On liminality, Conceptualizing in-between-ness', Master Thesis of
Human Geography (Nijmegen, June 2008) and in relation to online activity and social networking M. Savin-Baden,
After the death of privacy: Liminal states and spatial identities in Threshold Concepts Symposium (Ontario:
Queens University, Kingston, 2008).
124
The sublime has been thematised in literary art forms and certain novels, for example, a paragraph from Thomas
Hardys Tess of the DUrbervilles (1892) informed my solos-show I Am Somewhere Here (2006), Temple Bar
Gallery and Studios. This paragraph is printed on the pamphlet for the exhibition: I don't know about ghosts, she
was saying, but I do know that our souls can be made to go outside our bodies when we are alive. The dairyman
turned to her with his mouth full, his eyes charged with serious inquiry, and his great knife and fork (breakfasts were
breakfasts here) planted erect on the table, like the beginning of a gallows. What--really now? And is it so, maidy?
he said. A very easy way to feel 'em go, continued Tess, is to lie on the grass at night and look straight up at some
big bright star; and, by fixing your mind upon it, you will soon find that you are hundreds and hundreds o' miles away
from your body, which you don't seem to want at all. Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D'Urbervilles (London, Penguin
Classics, 2003), 147.
125
Turner, The Ritual Process, viii, 95, 107, 138.

55
Figure 18: Research/Working Notebook.

Liminality provided a useful perspective to reflect on my work. The openness of this


term enabled me to reflect on the content of my drawings in two ways. Firstly it allowed
an additional entry point to engage with the indeterminate quality of the immeasurable
universe that I was attempting to render in Mapping Nihilion and The Clear
Apprehension Other works such as The Anticipation of the Nothing that I am Faced
With, (Fig.19) a drawing of a postcard featuring a black hole and The Searchers (Fig.
20), mountaineering expedition moving slowly towards a void could also be considered
as depicting liminal zones. Liminality enabled me to thematise my work without closing
it down to further interpretation. As noted above, the term liminal can be used to
designate real and/or symbolic spaces. The threshold state defined as liminal provided a
theoretical perspective to engage with the phenomena depicted in Mapping Nihilion and
The Clear Apprehensionas real or imaginary realms. Secondly, liminality enabled me
to reflect on the subjective state of indeterminacy that unfolded through my drawings.
This subjective state was literally presented in the in the transcribed statements. It could
also be registered in a less explicit manner in the drawings. For example The
Anticipation of the Nothing that I am Faced With and The Searchers suggest liminal
states on a symbolic level. The black hole in the Anticipation of the Nothing that I am
Faced With suggests the indeterminate state of subjectivity. The four mountaineers in
The Searchers seem suggest this subjective state. Like the void in this drawing, these
figures emerge as empty spaces surrounded by densely rendered intricate pencil marks.

56
Figure 19: The Anticipation of the Nothing that I am Faced With (2006).
Drawing (14.5 cm x 11 cm), Mark Gary, private collection.

Figure 20: The Searchers (2002).


Drawing, (120 cm x 70 cm), University of the Arts Collection, London.

57
Liminality also provided a theoretical perspective to engage with my own experience
and my art practice because it provided a term to thematise the particular temporality
that my art practice carved out. Liminal states are understood as temporal experiences
that are other than our everyday experience of time. The anthropologist Colin
Turnbull describes liminality as a timeless state of being ... that lies parallel to our
normal state of being, or is perhaps superimposed on it, or somehow coincides or
coexists with it.126 Liminality is understood to subvert chronological time. This
subversion of time can take place on an experiential level, for example the everyday
experience of time might be stretched or compressed through altered states in the
liminal stage of ritual and on a symbolic level where the notion of time itself becomes
inconsequential. As noted in the accounts of Mapping Nihilion and The Clear
Apprehension the time-consuming process of conducting these enquiries that
informed these works necessitated my working through the night into the early hours of
the morning.

Working over this protracted period of time induced a sense of disorientation and
remove the jangled feeling one gets with sleep deprivation or a hangover, prompting a
disengagement of the active, instrumental self. Although my experience was less
extreme than trance-like states associated with those undergoing initiation rites,
Turners interpretation of liminal state as betwixt and between articulated a similar
in-between experience I had when making these drawings. 127 Engaging in this
practice carved out a temporal space that was different to and in this way set apart from
my quotidian experience. The realisation that an art practice might institute an other
space as an alternate experience and temporality is crucial to the enquiry because it
informs the working definition of the research project.

How I used liminality as a term to reflect on my experience while in the process of


making these drawings is significant to the development of the research project because
it initiated a turning point in my practice from a concern with the object to a greater
concern with experience and how the process of conducting this particular form of
enquiry through practice affected me. Reflecting on my experience provoked me to
consider how a similar experiential state might invoke others to think about the

126
Turnbull proposes this interpretation of liminality in Turnbull, Liminality, 80.
127
See footnote 6

58
indeterminate state of existence. Instead of producing artworks for others to reflect on I
became more concerned with extending my enquiry into subjective experiential state so
that others could partake. This emerging concern with experience instigated a shift in
my practice, moving the activities from the solitary realm of the studio to a more
expansive and collective space. My seeking to extend philosophical enquiry through the
rubric of liminality to others marks a turning point in my practice that led to the
emergence of the event.

2.2 Metaphysical Longings

I approach Metaphysical Longings as an open process because this event-based work


encompasses four iterations. For clarity these are named Metaphysical Longings II, III,
IV and V. This work features as one of the three artworks that constitute the research
project. The original event was first enacted in Pallas Heights in March 2006. Pallas
Heights (now named Pallas Contemporary Projects) was located in five disused flats on
the fourth floor in a social housing complex in Dublins inner city. 128 I was invited by
the directors to produce work specifically for this space prior to its demolition. When
developing Metaphysical Longings my primary aim was to initiate a liminal experience.
The intention of this work was to create a site-specific installation that would capture
liminality by presenting the results of a collective experiential state that could be
described as liminal. The event Metaphysical Longings was developed as a
meditating/drawing session to support the synonymous exhibition in the flat as a site-
specific installation. This installation would be configured by the drawings produced by
the group who had participated in the collective act of meditation. The event
Metaphysical Longings was developed so that others might experience a threshold,
indeterminate state associated with liminality directly. Although the framework of the
event that was developed to support the production of the installation, it also sought to
extend my engagement with philosophical ideas on the notion of indeterminacy to
others. An open call for participants was advertised in the VAI, inviting thirteen
individuals to visit the flat and participate in this event at dusk 129 (Fig. 21).

128
Pallas Heights, now Pallas Contemporary Projects, is an artist-run gallery and studios in Dublin. As this complex
was due for demolition Dublin City Council offered this to artists/directors Brian Duggan and Mark Cullen.
129
The add in the VAI read: An invitation to experience the infinite. Engage in an evening of esoteric exploration
and share your experience. This twenty-minute meditation session suitable for both seers and sceptics will be

59
Figure 21: Invitation in the VAI Broadsheet (Visual Arts Ireland).

Rather than engaging with liminality on a theoretical level, Metaphysical Longings


sought to extend my exploration of indeterminacy to a wider collective. Using
techniques associated with yoga nidra, this event sought to furnish a collective
engagement with liminality more directly through processes used to intensify an
experience that is other. The demolition of the site could be seen from the balcony
adjacent to the room where the event took place. In advance of the event, the room was
prepared by covering the entire floor with blankets (Fig. 22, 23). There is no
documentation of this event because it was essential that the participants could fully
immerse themselves in the process. The process of psychic sleep would be under-mined
if the group realised that they were being photographed, let alone being watched. It is
also important to note, that at this time, I did not see the event as an actual artwork, but
as one of the processes used to support the development of what I believed at the time
was the actual artwork the site-specific installation. Very soon after the enactment
of this event I realised that this was in fact a work in its own right (which will be the
focus of the following discussion).

followed by a picture drawing session. Tea and biscuits will be served to enhance endeavour. This event will take
place at Pallas Heights on: Wednesday 22 March 6.30pm 7.30. For booking and more information please contact
Clodagh on 01-4741444 / emoe@ireland.com. (As Pallas Heights is soon to be levelled, limited space and time is
available, booking is essential). This event is organised in conjunction with the exhibition Metaphysical Longings,
preview on Friday 24 March at Pallas Heights.

60
Figure 22 & 23: View from balcony and interior of Pallas Heights, Dublin 1.

Following the forty-minute yoga nidra session the group opened their eyes, finding
themselves in a room bathed in salmon pink light. They remained on the floor while I
distributed tea, drawing boards and coloured pencils and sheets of paper that read along
the top, Share your Experience (Fig. 24. The group was asked to respond through the
process of drawing. While making these drawings they chatted openly about their
experience. These clusters of conversations became more intimate as people disclosed
to one another their own personal understanding of their being in the world. As the
room got darker I lit candles and when the group were eventually ready to leave at
nightfall I thanked them for coming and collected their drawings.

Figure 24: Paper distributed to group during Metaphysical Longings.

61
The exhibition Metaphysical Longings as a site-specific installation opened three days
later. The downstairs room in the flat where people had gathered three day previously to
practice meditation and create drawings remained untouched. The blankets remained
covering the floor. The drawings that were produced by the group were presented in a
room upstairs. I presented these drawings as a series of slides projected on an old-
fashioned screen using a defunct slide projector (Fig. 25). The room was filled with
mismatched chairs (borrowed from a nearby school) rendering the room inaccessible to
an audience. The audience were required to encounter this work through a chink in the
door (Fig. 26).

Figures 25 & 26: Metaphysical Longings (2006).


Site-specific installation (detail).

2.2.1 The Emergence of the Event as an Artistic Form

Metaphysical Longings marks a pivotal moment in my practice, where the event shifted
from a supplementary feature of my practice to become an artistic form in its own right.
Prior to embarking on the formal enquiry in 2008, I considered the event as
supplementary to my practice, organising the event to support the exhibition of
artworks. These events fulfilled a didactic role, offering further insight to the
motivations and intentions of the work from the perspective of the artist. For example,
events such as a public conversation with artists participating in the show I Am Here
Somewhere, Project Space, IMMA (which ran concurrently with my solo exhibition I
Am Somewhere Here at TBGS), functioned to provide the audience with further insight

62
into the concerns and intentions motivating my work. 130 Such events are now a standard
and are regarded as an essential feature within the overarching structure of a
contemporary art exhibition. This is demonstrated by series of talks and seminars that
feature within the scheduling of exhibitions, from artist-run spaces to large-scale
biennials. It is also noteworthy how the presence of philosophers in large-scale biennials
has proliferated globally over the last twenty years. 131

Recent art practice demonstrates a crossover between the event (discursive, didactic or
otherwise) and the artwork. 132 This is also exemplified by early post-conceptual
practices, such as Pipers Funk Lesson, and Helio Oiticicas Parangols (1964-1968)
(2006) which uses dance to convey their message and both works deal with inclusivity
by directly confronting issues surrounding race, gender and class. To recap, Funk
Lesson was a series of social events where the artist, a woman of black extraction taught
white people the moves and history of funk. Similarly, Parangols repositioned the
samba (a form of dance associated with carnival and the lower strata of Brazilian
society) from the favella to the institutional, bourgeois space of the museum. 133 Instead

130
I Am Somewhere Here, Project Room, IMMA, March 2014. Participating Artists: Anna Barham, UK, Naomi
Bishop, Australia, Colin Crotty, Ireland, Vera Lossau, Germany, Camilla Lyon, UK, Belen Uriel, Spain, Tom
Wolseley, UK. The Press release reads:
I am Here Somewhere, Clodagh Emoes current solo show at Temple Bar Gallery and Studios, articulates the
inherent desire to succumb to the void whilst exposing the constraints, both physical and mental, of the human
condition. I am Somewhere Here is a direct response by some of Clodagh Emoes peers to this show and their
dialogue on themes that pertain to the notion of the void. Naomi Bishops paintings of observatories highlight the
desire to connect with the unknown, while Colin Crottys work is concerned with memory and perception. Intrigued
by nostalgic and idealistic senses indicative to that found in certain 20th century literature he establishes associations
between the parochial tale and the classic novel. Belen Uriels photography and video work reference the sublime
by capturing on film the dissipating landscape. By referencing the formal beauty of modernist architecture Camilla
Lyon places emphasis on the often failed ideals that they represent. Anna Barhams installation and sculptural objects
enable for multiple possibilities, and for a bleeding between; relations seem to evolve in time. Tom Wolseley
combines different media to make visible the linguistic manoeuvres he finds necessary to define himself, while Vera
Lossaus work could be understood as a dutiful awareness of self which is a persistent joy of enquiry into
nothingness.
131
This has been observed by Osborne, who claims that there has been a resurgence of interest in explicitly
philosophical discourses about art over the last decade by way of a more affirmative turn towards the conceptual
resources of the post-Kantian European tradition. Osborne, "Art Beyond Aesthetics, 8. This is also explored by the
critic Dorethea Von Hentelmann, see essay The Rise of the Exhibition, in Aesthetics and Contemporary Art, ed.
Armen Avanessian & Luke Skrebowski, 249 (Berlin: Strenberg Press, 2011). p.178.
132
The use of this discursive framework is demonstrated explicitly by works such as Cinemainthe-Round (2008),
the video lecture by Mark Leckey; Museum Highlights (1989), in which Andrea Fraser staged a tour of the
Philadelphia Museum of Art; and Joseph Beuys Organization for Direct Democracy (Cinemainthe-Round
describes the relationship between object and image through film, television and video and featured in Leckeys
Turner prize winning exhibition Industrial Lights and Magic. By subverting the structure of the guided tour Frasers
Museum Highlights performs institutional critique by encouraging the visitor to re-think the museum. For
Organization for Direct Democracy Beuys established an information office that was open to initiate conversations
on a range of topics including politics and art. Through this performance Fraser encourages the audience to re-think
the museum.) For other examples of discursive practices see Curating the Educational Turn, ed. Mick Wilson and
Paul O' Neil (Open Editions, 2010).
133
The critic Anna Dezeuze observes, The irruption of the poor into the bourgeois atmosphere of the museum
caused such a scandal that the director had them evicted. Anna Dezeuze, Tactile Dematerialization, Sensory
Politics, Hlio Oiticicas Parangols, Art Journal, 63, no.2, Summer 2004, p.59.

63
of presenting the Parangols as art works for exhibition, Oiticica invited dancers from
Mangueira favella to wear these strangely fabricated capes and dance the samba for the
opening of the exhibition Opino 65, at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio. 134 Although
dancing the samba might not on the face of it seem to raise issues of inclusivity,
Oiticicas gesture of inviting this ostracised group to the privileged, bourgeois space of
the museum and the counter decision of the director of the museum to evict the dancers
raises issues of hegemony, control and inequality in a non-didactic manner.

In 2006 I began to consider how the event might be used to frame and perform an
enquiry in a non-didactic manner. 135 As part of my solo show I Am Somewhere Here I
developed a stargazing event with Astronomy Ireland on the rooftop of Temple Bar
Gallery and Studios. The event Losing Ourselves sought to provide a space where the
audience might engage with the philosophical category of the sublime which informed
the works in the exhibition. I Am Here Somewhere was primarily informed by the
aesthetic category of the sublime. My enquiry developed through these works to focus
on the void, linking notions of nihilism and the unknown. This exhibition consisted of
works that included The Change of Heart (After Yves Klein) (2006), a re-enactment of
my attempting Kleins famous Leap into the Void (1969); The End is in the Beginning
(2006) (Fig. 28), a video piece documenting my fraught attempts to climb over walls;
The Approach, a collage depicting a configuration of stars burnt into pages from a first-
edition publication; Approaches to Philosophy (1932) by J.F. Wolfenden and Comet
(The Human Being is Death in the Process of Becoming) (2006), an etching of a comet
that was projected to fill the gallery wall. 136 (Figs. 27 - 30) reveal the entwinement of art
and philosophy in my practice explicitly. The subtitle of Comet (that also captions the
image of the comet, that was projected onto the wall from an etching on lens of the

134
Parangols are textile-based structures that are designed to be worn and activated by the wearer. Parangol is a
slang Portuguese term that translates as spectrum of ideas and events related to idleness, a sudden agitation, an
unexpected situation, or a dance party. Gilles Dezeuze, Tactile Dematerialization, Sensory Politics, Hlio Oiticicas
Parangols, 59.
135
Losing Ourselves exemplifies the internal logic in art and how meaning becomes enacted through process. It is
worth noting that the stargazing session did not take place on the rooftop as intended, as there was ninety-five per
cent cloud cover on the scheduled night. Instead, David Moore, the founder of Astronomy Ireland (not to be confused
with the renowned astronomer Sir David Moore), presented a slide show projecting photographic documentation of
the planets and stars in a studio space in TBGS. How the event unfolded as a substandard stargazing session
articulated the physical restraints inhibiting awe-inspiring or transcendental forms of experience.
136
The caption The Human Being is Death in the Process of Becoming that featured in this piece is a direct quote
of Critchleys relating to his reading of nihilism through Heidegger. Like Mapping Nihilion this work is also
informed by Critchleys publication Very Little Almost Nothing (2004). It is worth noting my engagement with
Critchleys philosophical thought in my practice prior to embarking on the formal enquiry was through my reading
his works. Through my developing events as art works, my engagement with this philosopher was furthered through
our direct collaboration on Mystical Anarchism.

64
projector) is a quote borrowed from Critchley that summarises his analysis of
Heideggers notion of being. The event Losing Ourselves aimed to draw out the ideas
informing the work through suggestion rather than explicate the meaning of the works.
Although I did not consider the event Losing Ourselves an artwork, my gesture of titling
the event like one would an artwork indicates a developing awareness of the
significance of the event and my realisation of its potential to do more than operate as
an addition to, or a support mechanism for an exhibition.

65
Figure 27: The Change of Heart (After Yves Klein) (2006).
Photographic print.

66
Figure 28: The End is in the Beginning (2006).
Video, looped with sound (still).

67
Figure 29: Approaches to Philosophy (2006).

Figure 30: Comet (The Human Being is Death in the Process of Becoming) (2006).

68
As noted at the start of the discussion, Metaphysical Longings marks a pivotal moment
in my practice where I became aware of the event as an artistic form. Metaphysical
Longings developed the experimental and participatory approach that was used in the
event Losing Ourselves. As outlined the original intention of Metaphysical Longings
was to support the production of a series of drawings that would document a liminal
experience. These drawings would be used to produce a site-specific installation. As
noted in my reflections on the drawings, the notion of indeterminacy and impermanence
that I was seeking to comprehend through my practice was simultaneously engendered
on an experiential level through the process of working over a protracted period of time.
In this way, making these drawings induced an experiential state that seemed
disengaged from my everyday experience, a feeling of indeterminacy or in-
betweeness that I came to associate with forms of meditation, particularly the
meditative practice of yoga nidra. The task of Metaphysical Longings was to turn this
process on its head in an attempt to induce in others a similar experiential state through
yoga nidra and to capture the outcome of this experience in a series of drawings.

The premise of these drawings was to capture and present a liminal state as experienced
by each individual who had practiced yoga nidra. For example the feeling of losing
oneself that a person is said to experience practicing psychic sleep is indicated in the
drawing by the black disembodied hands (Fig. 25). However, although many images
were evocative, I realised the impossibility of fully capturing a liminal experience on
paper. This insight informed my decision to present these drawings at a remove, in a
space that could not be fully accessed. On reflection I realised that the event proved a
more appropriate framework to allow others engage with liminality than my previous
method of presenting my interpretation of liminality through drawings, because it
provided a more dynamic and immediate framework for others to engage with
liminality. The event offered a more dynamic and immediate framework by furnishing
the possibility of experiencing a meditative state poised between sleep and wake
through the practice of yoga nidra. However, I also realised that the event was a more
appropriate form to capture a particular experience, than a series of drawings presented
in the form of a site-specific installation. The event offered an artistic form that, albeit
temporarily, captured liminality by enacting a space that furnished experiences one
would associate with this threshold state. I realised what was most compelling was not
the outcome, but the event itself.

69
2.2.2 Enacting Other Spaces

Through Metaphysical Longings I sought to extend my engagement with philosophical


thought to others by engaging with liminality. However, rather than engaging with
liminality on a theoretical level, Metaphysical Longings sought to engage with
liminality directly by initiating a temporality that is other to the everyday experience.
This discussion presents how I formulate the working definition of the research project
that seeks to enact an other space by describing the processes used in Metaphysical
Longings to initiate an alternate temporality on an experiential and symbolic level.

Specific processes are used in Metaphysical Longings to initiate an alternate temporality


where others may engage with liminality directly. I focus on two, the technique of
guided visualisation that I borrow from yoga nidra, and a process I have come to term as
staging. In ritual theory, the liminal state is understood as an experiential state that
moves beyond the structured realm of the ego. Forms of meditation associated with
yoga nidra are also understood to disengage of the active, instrumental self or ego. Yoga
nidra was developed by Swami Satyananda Saraswati as a technique to attain
transcendental levels of consciousness and awareness. Yoga nidra is translated as
psychic sleep and designates trance and other meditative states not constituted by
sleeping and dream work. Teachers and practitioners claim psychic sleep is beyond or
subtler than the imagery and mental process of the waking and non-lucid dreaming
states. Psychic sleep trains the mind to become aware of the movement as the
emergence and subsequent disappearance of specific thoughts, feelings and experiences.
Through guided meditation the physical body is relaxed in order to activate
consciousness, heighten awareness and in turn disengage the ego. This movement from
the structured realm of the ego to an unstructured sub-conscious state occurs through an
intensification of experience. It is claimed that practicing yoga nidra induces a greater
sense of engagement and being with the world because it temporarily disengages a
preoccupation with the self through an intensification of experience.

I propose the meditative processes used in Metaphysical Longings can be registered as


enacting an other space in the way that they initiate an alternate temporal experience for
the practitioners. Metaphysical Longings employs the technique of guided visualisation
associated with yoga nidra to lead to this disengagement with the self, refocusing the

70
attention from quotidian concerns that consume the mind through processes that re-
focus the awareness to the breath. Focusing on the breath relaxes the body and, in so
doing, the mind. This process of letting go encourages the participant to enter into an
alternate state of consciousness. Because psychic sleep is a meditative state that cannot
be attained through regular sleep, the instruction Do Not Sleep is stated by the
disembodied voice of the yogi throughout the session. 137 In this way yoga nidra keeps
consciousness active, creating an alternate experiential state where new forms of
thought can unfold. Following this preliminary stage of the process of guided
visualisation a series of instructions were given to the group to retrace their memory and
consciousness backwards from the time of the present to first waking. This process of
travelling back through time is performed in the mind of the participant by reflecting on
the feelings experienced and the thoughts that arose over a specified time frame. By
stating, The past is part of time and time is part of your mind, the voice invokes the
capacity to initiate an alternate temporality. 138

The process of enacting other temporalities is furthered by the yogis instructions to


visualise specific places and objects. Instead of engaging with these sets of instructions
in a strictly cognitive and logical manner these forms can only be encountered through
feeling, awareness, emotion and imagination. This raises the possibility of these
temporalities to encourage ways of thinking about our being in the world on a
perceptive level. Engaging with the notion of being through meditative processes
radically differs from a philosophical approach that would require a lucid thought.
Metaphysical Longings sought to offer a temporal other space for a group to gather and
collectively re-engage with their being in the world through the collective activity of
lying down together and practising meditation.

137
For this first iteration of Metaphysical Longings I used a recording from a yogi that I had on tape cassette.
138
It is also interesting that the ancient Greeks had two words for time: chronos and kairos. While the former refers
to chronological or sequential time the latter signifies an alternate temporality, an in-between moment. Kairos
implies a moment in which something significant might occur. For more on this see Giorgio Agamben, The Time
That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans (California: Stanford University Press, 2005), 64.

71
Figure 31: Research/Working Notebook

By revealing the possibility of an alternate way of being in the world, Metaphysical


Longings can also be seen to initiate an other space on a symbolic level. As outlined,
yoga nidra re-shifts the focus from the individual to the collective or dividual through
the meditative process that is understood to disengage the ego. Critchley coins the term
dividual to articulate a shift in emphasis from the individual to the collective. 139 His
focus on the dividual differs from the focus on the individual that is endorsed by the
dominant political framework of liberal democracy.

This notion of the dividual that can be engaged with through the meditative processes
used in the work is also played out through the presence of the collective. It is generally
accepted that sharing an experience can enhance a sense of collectivity. This sense of
collectivity became manifest in the dynamic following the groups participation in yoga
nidra. This transformation to the dynamic amongst the group of strangers became
apparent in the body language, as they remained reclining together on the mats, and the

139
Critchley uses this term in Mystical Anarchism to describe the mystics involved in the Movement of the Free
Spirit. A transcript of the paper Mystical Anarchism is provided in the appendix of this thesis.

72
intimate conversations that opened up amongst the group. While the group were
drawing they openly discussed their experience, not only the sensations they perceived
during the meditation, but other experiences relating to their own personal lives. In this
way Metaphysical Longings can also be seen to initiate an other space, albeit
temporarily for the thirteen strangers that had gathered together.

Staging designates the second process used in Metaphysical Longings to initiate an


other space. I use the term staging to define the processes that institutes interplay
between content and context. As noted in the Introduction, the term staging in theatre
implies the use of temporary backdrops to create alternate, imaginary realms. Although
Metaphysical Longings is not a performance, its enactment ultimately involves what the
performance theorist Paul Thom observes as a performance setting a space set apart
from the space of everyday life. 140 Thom also identifies the performance occasion a
period of time structured for the purpose of that performance. 141 I have come to use the
term staging to describe a process that acknowledges and plays with these particular
elements, i.e. the location and the timing of the event. The process of staging in my
work is not to transform the appearance of a space but to enact an other space on an
experiential and symbolic level, and in so doing furnish interplay between content and
context. The location plays a key role in how this work is encountered, experienced and
potentially thought. My decision to enact this event in a flat that would soon cease to
exist enhanced the symbolic meaning of the work, further implicating the notion of
transience and impermanence on a subliminal level. The timing for Metaphysical
Longings was also a crucial factor and it was purposefully scheduled to take place at
6pm so that it would conclude at dusk. Enacting this work during the magic hour also
operates on a symbolic level, a particular moment when something significant might
happen. 142 This strategy of enacting the event at dusk also enhanced the experiential
aspect of the work on waking the group found themselves in a room that had been

140
David Davies, Philosophy of the Performing Arts (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011) 174.
141
Davies, Philosophy of the Performing Arts, 174.
142
The magic hour is described by the cinematographer Nestor Almendros as, "a euphemism, because it's not an
hour but around 25 minutes at the most. It is the moment when the sun sets, and after the sun sets and before
nightfall. The sky has light, but there is no actual sun. The light is very soft, and there is something magic about it. It
is clear the significance of this moment when Almendros observes that, It limited us to around twenty minutes a day,
but it did pay on the screen. It gave some kind of magic look, a beauty and romanticism." Arnold Glassman, Todd
McCarthy, Stuart Samuels (1992), "Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography". Kino International. The magic
hour was used as a cinematic device in Days of Heaven (1978) directed by Terrance Mallick, who worked in close
collaboration with the cinematographer Nestor Almendros and modelled the filming using little or no studio lights, a
pared-back technique not used since the silent movies of the 1920s.

73
radically transformed by the peach glow from the setting sun. Techniques of staging
were also employed to prepare the space for the event. This modest intervention of
covering the entire floor of the room in blankets operates on a practical and symbolic
level by demarcating a space for a collective gathering.

The possibility of Metaphysical Longings to initiate an other space on an experiential


and symbolic level is key to the development of the enquiry because it reveals how an
artwork might raise philosophical ideas in a non-didactic manner. This insight suggests
how an artwork could potentially engender thought while allowing me to reflect on the
thinking that might be raised through this work and how it differs from a way of
thinking associated with the discipline of philosophy as it is academically practiced. As
outlined, the meditative process rules out certain ways of thinking associated with the
academic practice of philosophy, such as theory building and argumentation demanding
less rational, more perceptive and imaginative forms of engagement. I also observe how
the process of staging used in the enactment of Metaphysical Longings informs how the
work is encountered and perceived. These insights support my provisional claim that
the thinking raised by art is bound with experience.

2.3 Summary

The reflective discussions on my early work contextualises the enquiry by proving an


entry point into my post-conceptual practice. The first part of this chapter presents the
motivation for my undertaking an enquiry into the philosophical character of
contemporary art. Through this discussion I introduce and explain the term entwinement
that I use to describe the engagement between the domains of art and philosophy in my
practice. By presenting The Clear Apprehension and Mapping Nihilion as artefacts
that reveal my engagement with philosophical enquiry I clarify how I approach my
practice as offering a temporal space for thought. A discussion focusing on liminality is
offered to introduce the term liminality as it was first conceived in the field of
anthropology, how this term extended into other fields of practice and how I employ
this term in my practice as a alternate perspective to engage with the existential question
of being. I outline how my engagement with liminality introduces a new concern in my

74
practice with experience and motivates a desire to extend a space of thought to others on
an experiential level.

The second part of the chapter presents the foundations of the research project and
describes how the event emerged as a framework that enabled me to extend my
engagement with philosophical thought to others and concurrently enabled others to
engage with liminality more directly through actual experience. Through a reflective
analysis I describe the processes used in Metaphysical Longings to initiate an
experience that could be defined as a liminal state. I reflect on how these processes
might raise the philosophical notion of being.

These discussions invariably demonstrate that the process of reflection is integral to my


practice and accordingly the research project. It is worth noting that registering the
motivation for the enquiry and the development of the research project is only possible
when there is distance from the work. It is important to stress that my decision to use
the event as the framework to explore the philosophical character of contemporary art
by examining the engagement between contemporary art and philosophy and
investigating how artworks implicate and potentially activate philosophical thought not
a concerted decision but emerged through my practice. These decisions, which are
registered in this chapter, were not made in a definitive manner but rather emerged in an
intuitive way through the process of making and presenting work. This differentiates the
methodology of the research as explorative in that it does not strictly adhere to a linear
form of pre-planning. As demonstrated through the lineage of my work, the
development of the research project was not planned in advance of embarking on the
formal enquiry but rather emerged and unfolded out of and through the practice. This
insight is significant to the enquiry because it reveals that the thinking raised through a
post-conceptual practice follows a similar process of unfolding.

By describing how philosophical enquiry, liminality, event, experience and thought are
all integrally linked within my practice this chapter contextualises the research project
as the development and enactment of event-based works that seek to enact other spaces.
Although my practice reveals an entwinement of artistic processes and philosophical
enquiry, the processes used in the enactment of Metaphysical Longings are not those
readily associated with the discipline of philosophy. The enactment of Metaphysical

75
Longings presents the possibility of raising philosophical ideas implicitly in a non-
didactic, nuanced manner in the manner that it is determined by and dependant on the
artistic form of the event. This insight is key because it informs a provisional claim that
the thinking raised by art is bound with experience.

76
CHAPTER THREE: INAESTHETICS AND THE REVELATION OF THOUGHT

3.0 Overview

This chapter is organised in three parts to present how inaesthetics provides a theoretical
guide to explore the philosophical character of art. This exploration is undertaken by
investigating the possibility of art to implicate and activate a particular form of thought.
Although Badiou does not identify a philosophical characteristic in art, through
inaesthetics he registers art (via the poem) as itself a form of thought. 143 Because
Badiou recognises this form of thought as specific, in that it is inseparable from the
sensible and that it grants itself the right to the inexplicit, inaesthetics provides a
theoretical guide to explore the capacity of art to implicate thought, without conflating
the domain of art with that of philosophy. 144

My reading of inaesthetics is predominantly informed by Badious Handbook of


Inaesthetics (1998), a series of his papers and secondary readings that disclose how
inaesthetics reveals the thinking raised by art. 145 The first part of this chapter provides
an account of inaesthetics, outlining how it designates a new schema between art and
philosophy that is against speculative aesthetics and proposes to reveal thought in art.
Speculative aesthetics is a term Badiou uses to designate the Hegelian model of
aesthetics as philosophys discourse on art. 146 Because this reading of aesthetics infers
the interpretative role of philosophy in relation to art, philosophy is understood as the
locus of truth and accordingly the bearer of meaning. Badious radical reappraisal of the
role of philosophy is outlined in a brief account of evental philosophy, his overarching
system of thought that establishes the theoretical foundations of inaesthetics. It is
important to note that Badious philosophical reading of event as novelty is different to
my reading of event as a term that designates a specific type of artistic form. However,

143
Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, 19.
144
Ibid.
145
My research also focuses on Badious papers, including Philosophy and Desire, presented in Sydney in 1999 and
Fifteen Theses on Contemporary Art, 2003, presented at the Drawing Centre, New York. I also look to commentaries
on Badious evental philosophy and inaesthetics by Peter Hallward, Gabriel Riera, Sam Gillespie, Jean-Jacques
Lecercle, Alberto Toscano and A. J. Barlett.
146
To read more about speculative aesthetics see Ellie During. During argues that inaesthetics fails to undermine
speculative aesthetics, claiming inaesthetics essentially performs the same task as what it is claimed to resist, see
During, E. (2005). How Much Truth Can Art Bear (M. Wilkens, ed.) Polygraph, 17 (The Philosophy of Alain
Badiou), 143-155.

77
although both readings differ, it is essential to analyse Badious event because it informs
inaesthetics by asserting the possibility of artistic truths. Although this enquiry is not
seeking to explore artistic truths it is necessary to clarify how Badiou asserts the
possibility of artistic truths to engage with the primacy of art for thought. The
discussion explicates how Badious evental philosophy asserts the primacy of art for
thought through a re-conception of philosophy so that it may be conditioned by art, and
not vice-versa. Through evental philosophy Badiou relocates thought from the external
site of philosophy to the immanent space of art. Moving from evental philosophy I
outline how Badiou formulates inaesthetics as a new schema to engage with the
condition of thought in art. These discussions that constitute the first part of this chapter
function to substantiate my decision to use inaesthetics as a theoretical guide for the
enquiry.

The second part of this chapter presents an explorative analysis of the term
intraphilosophical effect, a term that he asserts in the epigraph. This task is not without
difficulties because Badiou does not provide a definition of this term. Instead he
discloses its meaning through his reflections on the poetry of Mallarm in the
Handbook. 147 Although the research project does not consist of poems, I maintain that
Badious method of registering the intraphilosophical effect of the poem as an
operation that activates the sensory perception of a regime of thought can be
deployed to explore how thought may be engendered through the event-based works
that constitute the research project. 148 This is mainly because our general reading of art
in its contemporary sense is informed by the Romantic conception of the poem. 149 I
support the applicability of this method by looking to Osborne who maintains that our
general reading of art in its contemporary sense is informed by the Romantic conception
of the poem. 150 I also look to Heiser and Verwoert curatorial project Romantic
Conceptualism that deploys a similar method through their poetic treatment of
conceptualism. 151 Just as Badiou reflects on the operation as an open process in

147
Badiou focuses on Mallarms Un Coup de Ds [The Throw of the Dice] (1897) and LApres-midi dun Faune,
[The Afternoon of the Fawn] (1876). He also looks to the writings of Rimbaud, Celan, Milosz, ben Rabia, Rimbaud
the novels of Pessoa and the plays of Samuel Beckett.
148
Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, 19.
149
Osborne, "Art Beyond Aesthetics, Philosophical Criticism, Art History and Contemporary Art," 22.
150
151
Verwoert also asserts the position that our general reading of contemporary art is informed by what he terms as the
event of Romanticism. Verwoert names it as such because he reads the artistic and philosophical discourse of
Romanticism around 1800 as the threshold to the modern age . Verwoert, Romantic Conceptualism, Romantic
Conceptualism, ed. Ellen Seifermann and Christine Kintisch. (Germany: Kerber Verlag, 2007), 165-175.

78
Mallarms poem, Verwoert performs a similar poetic analysis, revealing how specific
conceptual artworks similarly operate as an open process that activates thought. 152 (It
is worth noting that Verwoerts revisionist reading of conceptualism reveals Novaliss
use of the term operation anticipates Mallarm.) Romantic Conceptualism is
significant for this enquiry because it presents the possibility of art to invite thought
while supporting my provisional claim that the thinking raised by art is bound with
experience. I outline how this revisionist reading asserting experience within the
mediatory process of conceptualism and in so doing opens up a narrow reading of
conceptualism as a purely logical inquiry [sic.] by focusing on Verwoerts reflections
on Robert Barrys conceptual propositions and Heisers interview with Susan Hiller. I
also look to Peter Lamarques poetic treatment of conceptual art to develop my
proposition that the thinking raised by art is perceived through the encounter. These
insights are brought to bear in the following chapter in the analysis of the event-based
works that configure the research project.

3.1 Badious Event Novelty, The Possibility of Truths and Setting the Conditions
for New Regimes of Thought

Because the event is a prevalent theme within philosophical systems of thought, this
term cannot be used in an equivocal manner. While the philosophy of event forms the
philosophical systems of Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Franois Lyotard, the later work of
Martin Heidegger and Jacques Derridas philosophy of diffrance (a deliberate
misspelling of diffrence). Badious event is configured in a different manner to these
systems of thought. Badiou describes how the event has become a common term for a
large number of contemporary philosophers, identifying this in Heidegger as ereignis
and in Wittgensteins understanding of the world as everything which happens. 153
Badious event departs from these readings by articulating a point of interruption,
describing the structural dimension of the event as novelty, through the appearance of
the supernumerary term. Badious interpretation of event as novelty is predominantly
informed by Gilles Deleuze. 154 Deleuze interprets novelty as the emergence and

152
Verwoert, Romantic Conceptualism, 174.
153
Badiou, The Event in Deleuze,
154
For more on Deleuzes event see Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, ed. Constantin V. Boundas, trans. Mark
Lester and Charles Stivale (New York: Columbia University Press, 1969).

79
enactment of new forms through which we engage and think about the world. Deleuze
designates event as the appearance of things in the world. Under these conditions the
framework of the world is conceived to generate novelty, and thus the source of event.
Badious commentator, Sam Gillespie observes that Badious reading of novelty departs
from Deleuze in relation to locating the emergence of these forms. Badiou inverts the
source of the Deleuzian event and locates it outside of the contemporary world. 155
This is because Badiou maintains a steadfast conviction that the contemporary world in
its current neo-liberal configuration is hostile to truths. 156

It is necessary to address the complex issue of truths because this underlies Badious
event. It seems extraordinary to encounter a contemporary philosopher adhering to a
notion of truth following developments in post-modern thought. However, Peter
Hallward argues that Badious adherence to the concept of truth is not merely nostalgic
commitment, but is more radical in its resolve to respond to the condition of our
times. 157 To explain, Badious adherence to truth is not an adherence to totality, because
it sustains the post-modern position that there is no absolute and singular Truth. 158
Instead Badiou adheres to a notion of truths. By acknowledging the possibility of truths,
Badiou presents a new reading of philosophy that departs from the three orientations
(traditions) that he identifies in contemporary philosophy. Badiou identifies these as
hermeneutic, analytic and post-modern and proposes that underlying each is a concern
with meaning. Badiou claims the hermeneutic orientation centres on meaning through
its focus on the interpretation of being and affiliates this orientation with German
Romanticism and the work of Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamar. 159 Badiou

155
Sam Gillespie, The Mathematics of Novelty, Badiou's Minimalist Metaphysics (Melbourne: re.press, 2008), 14.
156
Ibid
157
Peter Hallward, Introduction, in Think Again: Alain Badiou and the Future of Philosophy (London/New York:
Continuum, 2004), xxiv.
158
Like Jean-Franois Lyotard, Badiou registers the impossibility of a single construct to reconcile the plurality of
registers and language in thought [and] in action.. Badiou acknowledges the post-modern orientation holds the
aim of philosophy to be the deconstruction of the accepted facts of our modernity. In particular post-modern
philosophy proposes to dissolve the great constructions of the nineteenth century to which we remain captive the
history of the historical subject, the idea of progress, the idea of revolution, the idea of humanity and the ideal of
science. Its aims show that these great constructions are outdated, that we live in the multiple, that there are no great
epics of history or of thought; that there is an irreducible plurality of registers and languages in thought as in action;
registers so diverse and heterogeneous that no great idea can totalize or reconcile them. At base, the objective of post-
modern philosophy is to deconstruct the idea of totality to the extent that philosophy itself finds itself de-
stabilised. Alain Badiou, Infinite Thought, Truth and the Return to Philosophy, ed. Oliver Feltman and Justin
Clemens, trans. Oliver Feltman and Justin Clemens (London/New York: Continuum, 2005), 32.
159
The hermeneutic orientation assigns philosophy the aim of deciphering the meaning of being, the meaning of
being-in-the-world, and its central concept is that of interpretation. There are statements, acts, writings and
configurations whose meanings are obscure, latent, hidden or forgotten. Philosophy must be provided with a method
of interpretation that will serve to clarify this obscurity, and bring forth from it authentic meaning, a meaning which
would be a figure of our destiny in relation to the destiny of being itself. Badiou, Infinite Thought, 32.

80
maintains that the rules of meaning are the predominant concern of the analytic
orientation, seeing this emerging out of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Rudolf Carnaps
theories on language. 160 Badiou identifies the concern with meaning in the post-modern
orientation through Jacques Derrida and Jean-Franois Lyotards contestation of the
Grand Narrative. 161 Because Badiou claims these philosophical traditions centre on
meaning, he argues contemporary philosophy in each of its guises performs a departure
from a truth-orientated philosophy to a philosophy that becomes a meditation on
language, an enquiry into techniques of utterances and sites for enunciation. 162 The
problem with this departure from the classical ideal of truth for Badiou is that
philosophical problems become grammatical problems. According to Badiou, this
emphasis on language implicitly debilitates thought. 163 The commitment to the
possibility of event and its capacity to transform the current socio-political situation
demonstrates Badiou as an interventionist thinker. 164 From this position, Hallward
argues Badious evental philosophy as offering a new philosophical system to engage
with the contemporary condition. 165

Although Badious reading of the contemporary world appears nihilistic, his adherents
claim evental philosophy offers a system to re-engage in a more optimistic and
ultimately more proactive level with the contemporary world. 166 Badiou deploys the
mathematical term the state of the situation to designate what is permitted
representation in the world. 167 The state of the situation articulates what is presented or

160
The analytic orientation holds the aim of philosophy to be the strict demarcation of those utterances which have
meaning and those which have not. The aim is to demarcate what can be said and what it is impossible or illegitimate
to say. The essential instrument of analytic philosophy is the logical and grammatical analysis of utterances, and
ultimately of the entire language the central concept is not the interpretation, but the rule. Badiou, Infinite
Thought, 32.
160
Badiou, Infinite Thought, 37.
161
Ibid.
162
Jean-Jacques Lecercle, Badiou's Poetics, Think Again, Alain Badiou and the Future of Philosophy, ed. Peter
Hallward (London, New York: Continuum, 2009), 208.
163
Badiou seeks to resist the linguistic turn demonstrated in the analytic school by Wittgenstein or the continental
tradition by Heidegger through hermeneutics in which language determines enquiry as in Badious opinion
language is not the absolute horizon of thought. Badiou, The Desire for Philosophy.
164
This form of intervention is evidenced by Badious understanding of philosophy as the space of revolt, claiming
that the desire of philosophy implies a dimension of revolt: there is no philosophy without the discontent of thinking
in its confrontation with the world as it is. In order to activate this point of interruption and to sustain the task of
revolt in philosophy there needs at least one unconditional requirement - the necessity for the reconstruction or re-
emergence of the category of truth. Badiou, Infinite Thought, 36-37 and Hallward, Think Again, Alain Badiou, xxiv.
165
Hallward, Think Again: Alain Badiou, xxiv.
166
Riera, Alain Badiou, Philosophy and its Conditions, 2.
167
Badiou draws on Cantors mathematical axioms to define how the emergence of truth originates from within the
state of the situation (but not yet registered) to transform it. The axiom of the void articulated in Cantors set theory
is fundamental in the formation of Badious conjectures on ontology. It is important to outline that the void is not
identical to nothingness; rather, the axiom of the null set demonstrates that although appearing empty, the empty set
has a property that can be identified as designating a set to which no elements belong. In short, the dualistic aspect of

81
what can be represented in the world as it is configured, while concurrently
acknowledging the forms such as thought that are not yet represented. This
mathematical term defines the presentation of sets and the structural relations that
validate their presentation. 168 Badiou borrows this term to articulate what can be
presented in the world as it is socially and politically constructed. Through this term,
Badiou concurrently acknowledges the forms (be they physical entities in space or
temporal abstract ideas) which are not represented. In this way Badious event differs
from the Deleuzian event through its emergence within gaps that are not registered by
the state of the situation. In relation to art, Badiou claims the state of the situation
endorses and maintains formulaic artistic configurations. 169 These formulaic artistic
configurations conform to standardisation that Badiou maintains is indicative of the
regulative forces of the global market. Badiou links this flattening of culture with the
loss of political agency because, he argues, the proliferation of generic artistic forms
represses the development of more critical forms of practice and thought through
exclusion and repression. Badiou articulates the state of the situation in the Handbook
by claiming, there is only one politics, or as they say, there is no alternative. 170

However, rather than accepting that there is no alternative, Badiou engages with this
challenge by presenting the possibility of truths as moments of confrontation with the
state of the situation. 171 Bearing witness to these forms not yet represented requires a

the void advanced in set theory as a universally included set that belongs to no one in particular asserts a radical
infinity beyond all possible proofs of construction. Within set theory the void or null set {} designates the gaps
that are not registered by the state of the situation. As the null set can be thought and located within the state of the
situation, inconsistency of this state is demonstrated. This radical infinity beyond all possible proofs of construction
enables an understanding of the emergence of the event as the presentation of the void which had been previously
prohibited by the state of the situation. The event as truth procedure enables this ever present but prohibited void to
emerge through its recognition. The event points to the inconsistency within a situation held together and through its
enactment marks a rupture that enables the emergence of a previously imperceptible truth. In this way an event is
understood as the supplementation of apparition (lapparatre) outside of the state of the situation transforming it by
overturning a given state of affairs. Badiou, Infinite Thought, 36-37 and Gillespie, The Mathematics of Novelty, 14
168
What is distinctive about Badious system of thought is not only an adherence to the possibility and actuality of
truths, but his use of mathematics to conceive of truths. Badiou refers to mathematics as the place of ontology
because he argues it as sustaining an objective enquiry into being. Badiou identifies mathematics as offering technical
and conceptual tools to register the inconsistencies in how the contemporary world is presented. Mathematics
provides the resource to engage and elucidate the anomaly articulated by the state of the situation and to conceive of
the emergence of truth as transforming this state.
169
He articulates this, claiming, The name culture comes to obliterate that of art. Alain Badiou, Saint Paul, The
Foundations of Universalism, trans. Ray Brassier (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), 12.
170
Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, 52. Badious sentiment is also articulated by the term capitalist realism.
Fishers publication is is aptly subtitled is there no alternative? Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No
Alternative? (UK: Zero Books, 2009). Fisher re-appropriates the term capitalist realism from Michael Schudson, who
coined the term in the mid 1980s to describe the realism of advertising as advancing the lifestyle of individual
consumerism over social integration and the betterment of community. Fisher co-opts this term to describe the
overriding sense of resignation with the current socio-political situation.
171
Alain Badiou, Aristotle Book II Being: Excess, State of the Situation, One/Multiple, Whole/Parts, or /, Being
and Event (London: Bloomsbury Continuum, 2007). How Badiou conceives this concept is explicated succintly by

82
new way of thinking. This new way of thinking is precisely how Badiou conceives
novelty. Novelty suggests a critical and transformative position because it challenges
the limitations to thought by re-thinking and engaging with the contemporary world. By
locating novelty in the point of interruption Badiou registers truths to rupture existing
knowledge. A.J. Bartlett describes how this break with doxa performs novelty by setting
the conditions for new regimes of thought. 172 Bartlett describes how Badious event
presents the link between the possibility of truths and the capacity to engender thought
by identifying truths as evental sites that witness and re-think the world. Badiou sees
evental sites as points of interruption that radically reconfigure previous forms of
thought.

Badiou locates evental sites in mathematics, politics, art and love because in each of
these sites Badiou observes the possibility to radically reconfigure previous forms of
thought. Although my enquiry is focused on art and not maths, politics or love, it is
necessary to register that Badiou treats these four non-philosophical fields as evental
sites, because it presents philosophy in a radically new way. The significance of this for
the enquiry is that under Badious system of thought, philosophy can no longer be
regarded as the domain of truth, since philosophy deals with truths it does not
produce. 173 By registering the truths in mathematics, politics, art and love Badiou
overwrites the privileged realm of philosophy as the locus of truth. Under these terms
philosophy cannot impose meaning on the artistic form because it may only operate as
the go-between in our encounters with truth. 174 Badiou outlines, if philosophy is to
contest the state of the situation philosophy must examine the possibility of a point of

Riera. Riera, Alain Badiou, Philosophy and its Conditions,11.


172
Badiou elucidates novelty through his reading of the Pauline event. Although Badiou is a confirmed atheist he
draws on the conversion of St. Paul to describe how a truth procedure interrupts the order of knowledge by attaching
itself to the void within a situation. In the case of the Pauline event, the void of the situation is revealed as Christs
resurrection, a fable or myth becoming the truth for an emergent community sustained by St. Pauls fidelity to this
truth in his Messianic vocation. The universal address of St. Paul reveals an inconsistency in the state of the situation
in relation to community, through the previous separation of Jew and non-Jew. This inconsistency is reversed in the
Pauline event by St. Pauls inclusive address to all. Badiou registers novelty in the Pauline event through the
acknowledgement of an indiscernible multiplicity.
173
Under these conditions philosophy can never be the source of the event, but functions to expose the truths as the
void of the situation which was previously hidden. A useful way to demonstrate an event in art is by looking to the
critic Thomas Hess, who observes that abstract art has always existed, but until this century it never knew it
existed. This observation demonstrates how philosophy can be seen to operate under the condition of art. Rather
than imposing meaning on abstract art through interpretation, the philosophical role is that of registering the
emergence of an artistic truth through the event of abstract painting. By identifying the event of abstract painting
Hesss analysis also demonstrates how a truth procedure emerges not as or through a single artwork but through the
accumulation of these forms as configurations. Art and philosophy are thus interlinked through the enactment and
recognition of truth as a regime of thought that transforms the previous situation. Hess, Abstract Painting, 131 quoted
in Danto, History and Theory, 127-143.
174
Riera, Alain Badiou, Philosophy and its Conditions, 69.

83
interruption so that thought can extract itself from this circulation and take possession
of itself once again. 175 As outlined in the overview the task of my enquiry is not to
examine the truth in art, but to explore the condition of thought in art. In advancing
artistic truths Badious evental philosophy advances the primacy of art for thought. This
insight plays a determining role in Badious configuration of inaesthetics.

3.1.1 Inaesthetics A New Relation of Philosophy to Art

By inaesthetics, I understand a relation of philosophy to art that,


maintaining that art is itself a producer of truths, makes no claim to turn
art into an object for philosophy. Against aesthetic speculation,
inaesthetics describes the strictly intraphilosophical effects produced by
the independent existence of some works of art. 176

Inaesthetics presents a radically new engagement between art and philosophy that
departs from speculative aesthetics. As outlined in Chapter One the troubling of
aesthetics in art practice was instrumental in the development of a contemporary
reading of art because it initiated the emergence of thought as an essential condition of
art. Why might this departure from aesthetics be important to Badiou and how does this
bear on the condition of thought in art?

Badiou claims the critical value of inaesthetics because it ensures the revelation of new
regimes of thought, presenting inaesthetics as a philosophical project that departs from
the task of defining art. By positing inaesthetics against speculative aesthetics Badiou
confronts the problematic relation between contemporary art and aesthetics. By stating
inaesthetics makes no claim to turn art into an object for philosophy Badiou registers
a new task for philosophy that overwrites philosophys interpretative role. Badiou
positions inaesthetics against speculative aesthetics because he sees this schema as
imposing a false truth on art. Badiou configures inaesthetics as a new schema that

175
Badiou, Infinite Thought, 29.
176
Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, Epigraph.

84
disrupts this imposition and sustains a new engagement between the domains so that
philosophy instead reveals the truths engendered in the way that art thinks. 177

Badiou uses the metaphorical term knot to define inaesthetics. He configures


inaesthetics as a schema that sustains reciprocity between art and philosophy. He
formulates this schema in response to three previous schemata that are, didactic
(platonic), classical (Aristotelian) and Romantic (hermeneutic). Badiou identifies these
schemata as designating particular relationships between art and philosophy, claiming
they sustain closure because they are lacking the resources to reveal truths. Badiou
maintains that these schemata further undermine the fulfilment of new regimes of
thought by imposing a false truth on art. Badious three schemata follow Hegels stages
or categories. 178 Like Hegel Badiou defines each schema by the relationship of art to
philosophy, using Hegels categories (although he uses the term didactic to designate
Hegels symbolic stage). It is worth noting that Badiou makes no reference Hegel. I
venture this omission of Hegel is not an oversight on Badious part, but rather an
ineffective strategy to distance inaesthetics from a Hegelian aesthetics.

Badiou maintains that contemporary art cannot be approached philosophically through


the previous schemata because they prohibit reciprocity between art and philosophy
which is essential for the possibility of engendering of thought. 179 According to Badiou
the didactic and classical schemata undermine arts primacy for thought by privileging
philosophy as the site for thought. Badiou outlines how this occurs in the didactic
schema that is informed by a Platonic understanding of art as a form of mimesis. Rather
than reading art as an imitation of things, i.e. a form of representation, the Platonic
understanding of art is that it is an imitation of truth itself. Under these conditions art is
not the locus of truth but as a semblance of truth. The charm of the semblance of truth
indicates a false truth, and as a false truth art must be placed under the control of
philosophy. 180 This suspicion of art is articulated by the explicit rejection of art from

177
Toscano claims, Badious approach is committed both to declaring the autonomy of artistic procedures (poetic or
literary, cinematic or theatrical) and to registering what he calls their intraphilosophical effects. (See the epigraph
to this volume) Alberto Toscano, Introduction Handbook of Inaesthetics, ed. Werner Hamacher, trans. Alberto
Toscano (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2005), x.
178
Danto, Hegels End of Art Thesis, 7.
179
He describes the current cultural situation as one of saturation and closure, referring to the proliferation of
artistic forms that delineate and restrict the cultural horizon. Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, 2 & 8.
180
The platonic gesture of excluding art from the polis of his idealised Republic demonstrates Platos suspicion of art.
Platos suspicion is indicative of how he interprets art in relation to truth. Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, 2.

85
Platos Republic. Plato rejected art because he maintained truth emerges from the
rigorous process of reasoning founded on first principles of philosophy. Badiou outlines
how the classical schema undermines arts primacy through the Aristotelian
development of Platonic understanding of art as mimetic. In the classical schema
Aristotle subverts Platos suspicion of art as threatening the first principles of
philosophy by advancing art as providing a cathartic function. As truth is not immanent
to art, the classical emphasis on verisimilitude renders art beyond suspicion. The
Marxist philosophy of language, Jean-Jacques Lecercle reflects on Badious inaesthetic
reading of the poem. Lecercle articulates how speculative aesthetics sustains the
classical emphasis on verisimilitude by observing, The poem is no longer a source of
knowledge but has become the object of the theoretical gaze of the philosopher, on a par
with natural phenomena, and no longer concerned with truth but only verisimilitude.181
Under the didactic and classical schemata artistic forms require interpretation from an
external source because artistic truths are neither singular nor immanent. Badiou
maintains that the didactic and classical schema cannot ensure the revelation of new
regimes of thought because they do not recognise truth as immanent or singular to art.

Lecercle observes that the Romantic schema corresponds with Badious understanding
that artistic truth is immanent. The Romantic schema, defined as the age of poets or the
literary absolute is associated with philosophical aesthetics of the late 18th century,
and has remained dominant to date. 182 According to Badiou, Heideggers hermeneutic
philosophical system of thought centres around a Romantic conception of the poem
being the natural site for authenticity and the disclosure of being and Truth.183
However, as a philosopher who seeks to register truths, the Romantic belief that art is
site of Absolute Truth is unsustainable for Badiou because it prohibits the possibility of
truths in the alternate non-philosophical fields of mathematics, politics and love. 184 In
his Manifesto for Philosophy (1999) Badiou describes Romanticism as a moment when
philosophy becomes sutured to only one of its conditions. 185 Badiou maintains this
restricts philosophy from the free play that is required in order to define a regime of
passage, or of intellectual circulation between the truth procedures, in the additional

181
Lecercle, Badious poetics, 210.
182
Ibid.
183
Ibid
184
Alain Badiou, Manifesto for Philosophy, ed. Norman Madarasz, trans. Norman Madarasz (New York: Suny,
1992), 12.
185
Badiou, Manifesto for Philosophy, 12 -14.

86
non-philosophical fields that condition philosophy. He further states that, the most
frequent cause of such a blockage is that instead of constructing a space of
compossibility philosophy delegates its functions to one or another of its conditions,
handing over the whole thought to one generic procedure. 186 Badiou maintains that
philosophy must be de-sutured from the poem to ensure its free circulation so that the
emergence of truths, be they artistic, mathematical, political or amorous, can be
registered by philosophy. 187

Inaesthetics offers a new schema that re-configures philosophy so that it may


conditioned by art. By maintaining a quality of compossibility, inaesthetics sustains the
immanence of truth in art in the Romantic schema, while re-asserting the presence of
truths in the non-philosophical fields. 188 Badiou borrows the term compossibility from
the philosophical system of the mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Leibniz (1646-
1716). For Leibniz, compossibility describes a situation that permits the existence of
properties or elements without one suppressing the other. Badiou deploys the concept of
compossibility to define the reciprocal engagement between philosophy and art that
underpins inaesthetics. Badiou argues that because inaesthetics sustains a free
circulation of meaning between art and philosophy, it furnishes possibility of the
revelation of new regimes of thought. By departing from a one-sided engagement where
philosophys task is to interpret art, inaesthetics ensures philosophy may reveal the
meaning that is implicit to art.

How does Badiou as a philosopher sustain reciprocity between the disciplines?


Although Badiou reflects philosophically on the poetry of Mallarm, he maintains that
he avoids interpretation through inaesthetics. Instead of imposing meaning on the
artistic form Badiou seeks to reveal the thinking that Mallarms poetry generates.
Badiou claims that by departing from a one-sided engagement where philosophys task
is to interpret art inaesthetics ensures philosophy instead reveals the meaning that is
implicit to art. Badiou identifies syntax as the crucial operator in Mallarms practice,

186
Riera, Alain Badiou, Philosophy and its Conditions, 69.
187
Badiou, Manifesto for Philosophy, 12.
188
An enquiry into the revelation of mathematical, political and amorous truths are for another day. For more on the
revelation of truths in these three non-philosophical fields please see Badiou, Infinite Thought, Truth and the Return
to Philosophy.

87
focusing on this to reflect on the thinking engendered by art, while avoiding falling into
the trap of interpretation.

Although Badiou maintains a forthright refusal of speculative aesthetics, Badious


commentator Ellie During claims that Badious claim is problematic. During argues that
Badious treatment of metaphor in the Handbook demonstrate the act of interpretation.
Badiou identifies these metaphors in Mallarm as the Constellation, the Tomb, or the
Sawn and in Rimbaud as the Christ, the Worker, or the infernal Groom. In Chapter
9, Being, Existence, Thought: Prose and Concept, Badiou focuses on metaphors that
include the dim, the shade, the void and more visceral forms such as the skull, the
clenched eyes, ooze, the old woman, the man and the child in the French translation of
Samuel Becketts testamental text Worstward Ho (1983). 189 Although Badiou claims
these metaphors reveal a network of thought or shorthand of the question of being,
During argues this explanatory process seems uncomfortably proximate to forms of
interpretation that Badiou rejects, arguing that the inevitability of speculation within
aesthetics and the wider discourse of philosophy is reaffirmed by Badious tendency to
partake in this inevitable procedure. 190 While accepting Durings observation that
Badious conjectures on the poem could be argued as interpretative, it is clear from
Badious reading that he does not seek to explicate meaning. By reading the poem as
organis[ing] a consistent dispositive in which the role of the poem is to engineer the
sensory [sensible] presentation of a regime of thought: subtraction and isolation for
Mallarm, for Rimbaud, Badiou does not seek to interpret but seeks to articulate how
the poem operates in the way that it raises thought. Inaesthetics provides a theoretical
framework to support a rigorous enquiry into the philosophical character of
contemporary art by giving further insight into how thought might be activated through
our encounter with the artistic form. 191 Durings observation nevertheless provides a
cautionary guide for the enquiry to avoid a potential risk of slipping into interpretation.
Attending to this risk ensures that this enquiry is not undermined by explicating the

189
Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, 89.
190
During argues that the inevitability of speculation within aesthetics and the wider discourse of philosophy is
reaffirmed by Badious tendency to partake in this inevitable procedure. For more see During, How Much Truth,
143-155.
191
Although in some cases his conjectures on the literary configuration of the poem could be argued as interpretative,
specifically in relation to his treatment of the metaphor, it is clear in Badious discussion on the metaphors that he
reads these metaphors in Mallarm and Rimbaud as organiz[ing] a consistent dispositive in which the role of the
poem is to engineer the sensory [sensible] presentation of a regime of thought: subtraction and isolation for
Mallarm, presence and interruption for Rimbaud. Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, 20. (The original and English
translation of this concrete poem is provided in the Appendix.)

88
meaning of the artistic forms that configure the research project, but remains focused on
its task to explore how philosophical thought is raised through enactment.

3.2 Intraphilosophical Effect The Unnameable and Activating Thought

Although Badiou does not identify a philosophical character of art as Osborne does, I
maintain that his identification of an intraphilosophical effect of art suggests this
characteristic in the way that it reveals how art raises thought implicitly. 192 Although
Badiou conceives artistic thought as specific and irreducible to philosophy, this form of
thought possesses philosophical attributes through its potential to raise philosophical
ideas on a perceptive level. By outlining how Badiou formulates the intraphilosophical
effect of art as a special regime of thought this discussion teases out how Badiou
conceives art to activate thought.

The task of explicating what Badiou means by the term intraphilosophical effect is
not without difficulties. This is inferred in the first chapter of the Handbook, which
states, Most of the consequences of this thesis remain veiled and it demands from us a
considerable labour of reformulation. 193 Although Badiou uses this term in the
epigraph to the Handbook, he provides no definitive explanation for the term. My task
is therefore explorative in nature and I undertake this by considering how Badiou
registers this effect in the poem by conceiving the poem as an operation, an artistic
form that sustains an open-process in the way that it presents itself via the linguistic
power of a possible thought. 194 I mirror Badious process in this analysis by seeking to
register how he conceives the intraphilosophical effect of the poem. Through my
analysis I observe how Badiou presents the poem as a specific regime of thought by
reflecting on its inherent quality of indeterminacy and how this quality asserts a
resistance to interpretation. I observe how it is by resisting interpretation that the poem

192
Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, 9.
193
Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, 10.
194
This method of registering informed by Badious translator, Alberto Toscano, who states, Badious approach is
committed to both declaring the autonomy of artistic procedures (poetic, literary, cinematic or theatrical) and to
registering what he calls their intraphilosophical effect. Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, x.
via the linguistic power of a possible thought. Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, 18.

89
fulfils its operation because it necessitates, or in Badious lexicon, demands
engagement. 195

Through his reflections on Un Coup de Ds (The Throw of the Dice) (1897), Badiou
discloses how the indeterminate quality of this poem ensures its operative dimension by
asserting a resistance to interpretation. When reflecting on this poem Badiou states it is
only there, in its powerlessness, that a truth is stated. 196 Although this enquiry is not
focused on the exploration of truths, Badiou understands these truths as the emergence
of new regimes of thought. This is because truths perform novelty by causing a rupture
to existing knowledge. Badiou observes the complexity of artistic truths, and
accordingly, the emergence of new regimes of thought as inherently difficult to register.
Because truths perform novelty, Badiou maintains they are unnameable. 197 However,
Badiou maintains that it is the task of philosophy to register this unnameable. As
Lecercle observes, For language is always, at first at least, the language of the
situation, in which the event cannot be named, in which the truths that follow from the
event cannot be formulated. And yet the unnameable event must be named. 198 Badiou
succinctly names this indeterminate quality in the poetry of Mallarm as the
unnameable.

Badiou reflects on the unnameable in the work of Mallarm by referencing his claim
that there must always be enigma in poetry. 199 He considers the enigma of Un Coup
de Ds as the disclosure of this indeterminate quality, identifying it in this poem as a
pure notion constituted in the moment of this dissolution.200 For Badiou, the
unnameable is the enigmatic nature of the poem that preserves a guarantee that
language can neither constitute nor poetically validate, quoting from the poem, a rock,
false manor immediately evaporated, in a mist that imposed limit on its own infinity.
Badiou identifies the task of the poem is to disclose the unnameable and maintains to
fulfil this task the poem must break and reconstruct language. 201 Badiou observes

195
Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, 29.
196
Jean-Jacques Lecercle, Badiou's Poetics, Vol. 4, in Think Again, Alain Badiou and the Future of Philosophy, ed.
Peter Hallward (London, New York: Continuum, 2009), 211.
197
The truths are unnaable because they designate the void of the situation which was previously hidden. See
footnotes 167 and 173.
198
Lecercle, Badiou's Poetics, 211.
199
Lecercle, Badiou's Poetics, 23.
200
Lecercle, Badiou's Poetics, 29.
201
Lecercle, Badiou's Poetics, 211.

90
how machinations of the poem achieve this twofold movement in its attempt to strive
towards the limits of language. Lecercle reflects on Badious claim, observing the
powerless nostalgia of the poetic idea is a failure of language to attend to the task of
fully articulating the poetic idea. Paradoxically, the failure of language to articulate the
idea is precisely where the value of the poem lies because it suspends meaning. By
suspending meaning the poem initiates a radically new regime of thought. Lecercle
explicates this by observing what is demanded of the poem, in order for it to condition
philosophy is a resistance to the charm and incitement of fiction, image and narrative
which all too readily makes sense and thereby fosters interpretation. To reaffirm
this point Lecercle maintains that the poem should choose truth which does not make
sense in meaning. 202

As a philosopher of language Lecercle is aware that many of his associates would deem
his reading of the poem as moving towards a point where it vanishes into mere
gibberish. 203 Lecercles analysis instead confirms Badious strategy of negation. He
does not see Badious treatment of the poem as a radical performance of grammatical
enunciation but observes how Badiou registers Mallarm as a striving towards silence.
Lecercle advances the productive aspect of this strategy of negation, by describing how
Badiou registers the unnameable essence of the poem by focusing on its s syntactical
machinations. 204 By syntactical machinations Badiou infers a shift from the
conventional interpretative treatment of the poetic metaphor as singular elements in the
poem to a more immersive engagement with the operation of the poem, a term
Mallarm uses in his reflections when defining the poem. 205 Lecercle maintains that by
disturbing the poem, the syntactic machinations suspend meaning and thus permit the
poem to fulfil its operation by activating thought. 206

202
Ibid.
203
Lecercle, Badiou's Poetics, 213.
204
Badiou reflects on these syntactical machinations in Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, 70.
205
Lecercle describes how Badiou registers syntactic machinations in the temporal nature of the poem by the terms
vanishing and cancellation in the content of the poem and the term foreclosure within the poetic structure. The
vanishing marks the absence of the event in the site of its emergence. Badiou identifies this in the absence of the
word shipwreck (le naufrage) that which names the event, but does not appear. Instead the event is revealed
through a series of metonyms that include vanishing, cancellation and foreclosure. Cancellation infers the mark of
undecidability of the event as the vanishing of the shipwreck that becomes cancelled in the poem, while foreclosure
suggests the act of making absence of the slightest trace. Lecercle, Badiou's Poetics, 213.
206
Lecercle describes the productive aspect of this strategy in negative theology. He also sees this strategy of
negation in psychoanalysis through Lacans conception of the Real that might only be approached through its
negative description. Similarly, Lecercle identifies a similar strategy of negation in Badious truths in that they are
unnameable, undecidable and indiscernible.

91
By claiming, There are revolutions in language as there are in society. Mallarm is the
name for this new operation of the poem, Lecercle rearticulates Mallarms refusal to
rehearse formulaic artistic presentation that would hinder the enactment of new regimes
of thought. 207 Badious commentator J.A. Bartlett also reflects on Badious reading of
the poem in relation to his overarching system of evental philosophy. He also observes
the productive aspect of Badious strategy of negation in his reading of the poem as the
edge of the void. Badious reading of the poem articulates a form of thought whose
intelligibility owes nothing to the regime of existing knowledge. 208 Bartlett observes
how this break with doxa performs novelty by setting the conditions for new regimes of
thought.

In relation to contemporary art, the potential in art to interrupt dominant meaning and
break with doxa has also been asserted and articulated by Morris in his essay Notes on
Sculpture Part I. Morris articulates this break with doxa in practice by differentiating
the motivations of the iconographer (the practitioner) with the iconologist (the
interpreter). Morris observes that the iconographer who locates shared elements and
themes has a different ambition than the iconologist, who, according to Panofsky,
locates a common meaning. 209 As Morris outlines, the iconologists concern with
confirming and establishing the dominant meaning is at odds with the concern of the
iconographer as practitioner. Rather than locating common meaning, the process of the
practitioner reveals novel, uncommon meaning. In this way Morris asserts how
common or dominant meaning can be interrupted through art practice. Setting the
conditions that can interrupt meaning is understood by Bartlett as critical, because it
challenges the limitations to thought by engendering a new way of thinking and a new
way to engage with the world.
When reflecting on art (via the poem), indeterminacy does not denote inadequacy
because it is through this quality that the poem fulfils its task to activate thought. To
reiterate, Badiou articulates how an indeterminate quality in Mallarm necessitates
engagement when he states, Mallarms poem does not ask to be interpreted, nor does
it possess any keys. The poem demands that we delve into its operation. 210 The

207
Lecercle, Badiou's Poetics, 211.
208
J.A. Bartlett, Conditional Notes on a New Republic, in The Praxis of Alain Badiou, ed. A.J. Bartlett and Justin
Clemens Paul Ashton (Melbourne: re:press, 2006), 217.
209
Robert Morris, Notes on Sculpture Part I, in Minimal Art, A Critical Anthology (LA, California: University of
California Press, 1995), 223.
210
Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, 29.

92
demand that Mallarm identifies takes place in the encounter. The encounter with the
poem provokes the reader to delve into its operation. Badiou observes how thought is
activated by stating, the enigma lies in this demand not in order to know what it
means, but rather to think what happens in it. 211 The necessity that each of us must
configure our own thought is asserted by Badious observation of the poem that: No
one is its master, but everyone can come to be inscribed within it. For Badiou, the
value of Mallarms poem is precisely because it is subtracted from the impasse of the
master. 212 By suspending authorship, the poem permits us to forgo the singularity of
meaning, by replacing this with the thinking of this thought.

For Badiou, the significance of this unnameable quality in the poem is that it sets the
conditions for the emergence of new regimes of thought by activating a form of thought
that escapes the existing regime of knowledge. This form of thought that is activated by
the poem escapes knowledge because it cannot be qualified, quantified or fully
determined. This is inferred by Mallarms request that one must proceed with words
that are allusive and never direct. Because of its refusal to be determined Badiou
names this form of thought unthinkable. 213 He develops this further by naming the
poem unthinkable thought. 214 In this way the poem places a demand on the reader by
necessitating them to think, but in a manner that is different to the thinking that takes
place through reason, logic or analysis.

Because the operation of the poem can only be fulfilled through the encounter, the
specificity of thought is determined by the subjects experience of the artistic form, be it
a poem or, in the case of the Metaphysical Longings, the groups encounter in a soon to
be demolished flat. This form of thought differs to reason, logic or analysis because it is
bound with experience in the way that it is determined by the subjects engagement with
the artistic form. The experiential nature of this thought is articulated by Mallarms
definition of the poem as a happening of lIde in the sensible itself. 215 This is further
affirmed by Badious claim that art is the process of a truth and this truth is always the
truth of the sensible. 216 For Mallarm, this is not the representation of the sensible. The

211
Ibid.
212
Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, 56.
213
Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, 134.
214
Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, 19.
215
Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, 29.
216
Badiou, Fifteen Theses on Contemporary Art, 166.

93
sensible is what manifests as poetic thought. Rather than considering the poem as a
sensible form of idea, affixing a specific idea through linguistic representation, the
poem designates a process or an activity of thought. By identifying how Mallarm
conceives his poems as the transformation of the sensible into a happening of the idea,
Badiou asserts the poem as an open process that takes place in the moment of the
encounter. Badious reading of the poem as an operation is aligned with a general
contemporary reading of art as an open-process that is explicated in Chapter One in my
analysis Fosters notion of the birth of the viewer and through my analysis of my
post-conceptual practice that is presented Chapter Two. My observation that the
thinking in art is bound with experience, which is presented in Chapter Two, is also
iterated by Badiou, who describes the encounter with the poem as the sensory
perception of a regime of thought and, accordingly, enactment of thought as
inseparable from the sensible. 217

It is remarkable that Badiou does not draw on contemporary art when registering the
intraphilosophical effect. As outlined in Chapter One, developments in art practice
that led to a contemporary reading of art perform this transformative movement, of the
sensible into a happening of the idea, as demonstrated by the conceptual understanding
of the artistic form as mediating idea. In addressing this omission I identify a
correspondence between Badious reading of the poem and the poetic treatment of the
conceptual proposition in Romantic Conceptualism, Verwoert and Heisers revisionist
reading of conceptualism. Verwoert and Heiser alignment of the Romantic fragment (a
poem exemplified by Novalis) with conceptualism supports my decision to explore the
capacity of contemporary art to raise thought through Badious reading of the poem. It
could be argued that my aligning Romantic Conceptualism with inaesthetics is
problematic because it differs from Romanticism. However, as noted in the first part,
although inaesthetics differs from Romanticism by asserting the presence of truths the
non-philosophical fields, both schemas essentially sustain the immanence of truth in art
and assert the primacy of art for thought. 218 I argue that this difference is
inconsequential to my exploration into possibility of an artwork to engender thought. 219
.

217
Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, 19.
218
For more on mathematical, political and amorous truths see Alain Badiou, Being and Event (London: Bloomsbury
Continuum, 2007) and Badiou, Infinite Thought, Truth and the Return to Philosophy, 32.
219
Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, 9.

94
3.2.1 Romantic Conceptualism A Poetic Treatment of Contemporary Art

Romantic Conceptualism provides a context in art practice to develop my exploration of


the condition of thought in contemporary art, particularly through a post-conceptual
practice, precisely because this re-interpretation of conceptualism more readily aligns
with a post-conceptual reading of art. Romantic Conceptualism is a curatorial project by
Jan Verwoert and the curator Jrg Heiser. This exhibition was first presented at
Kunsthale Nrnberg, Nuremberg, in 2007 and later that year at the BAWAG
Foundation, Vienna. The exhibition featured the work of twenty-three artists, including
Bas Jan Ader, Robert Barry, Ross Birrell, Lygia Clarke, Didier Courbot, Tacita Dean,
Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Tomislav Gotovac, Rodney Graham, Henrik Hakansson,
Mathilde ter Heijne, Susan Hiller, Douglas Heubler, Kollsktive Aktionen, Louise
Lawler, Yoko Ono, Kirsten Pieroth, Allen Ruppersberg, Frances Stark, Jan Timme,
Andy Warhol, Laurence Weiner and Cerith Wyn Evans. Verwoert and Heisers
curatorial project informs the development of the enquiry by allowing me to further
explore how thought is activated by contemporary art.

Although the coupling of Romanticism with conceptualism is an unlikely theoretical


manoeuvre, Verwoert maintains his unorthodox alignment between conceptualism and
Romanticism opens up our view of a specific historical event-continuum. 220 By
describing conceptual art as Romantic, Verwoert and Heiser present an alternative to
Kosuths rigid definition of conceptual art as the intention, position, legitimation and
institution of art. 221 Rather than focusing on the implications of art as idea (as the state
of play art and its discourse) that motivates Kosuths proposition, Verwoert and
Heisers curatorial project focuses on the mediation idea through the artwork. By

220
Verwoert defines Romanticism and conceptualism as events. Although it is undeniable that Verwoerts reading of
artistic moments as events is informed by Kosuth, who engages with this conception of novelty in Art After
Philosophy when referencing Duchamps ready-made as an artistic event, I venture Verwoerts engagement with
Badiou. Although he claims that he cant stand reading Alain Badiou, in a recent article Friends of Foes in
Frieze, March 2010 Verwoerts interpretation of event as something has happened which changes everything and
his observation of difficulty in fully realising the significance of the event and that its significance is revealed
retrospectively, demonstrates his unavoidable engagement with Badious thought. Just as I note and overlap between
inaesthetics and Romanticism in relation to their shared assertion of the primacy of art for thought, I feel it important
to register the overlap in Verwoerts thought with Badious.
221
From the onset of his essay, Verwoert cautions the reader that Romantic Conceptualism is significantly vague;
however Verwoert validates his re-interpretation of conceptualism by claiming the term conceptualism itself is
equally vague. Verwoert maintains the surrealist poet and critic Guillaume Apollinaire had used it some fifty years
earlier. Although it is generally accepted that Kosuths Art After Philosophy established conceptualism as a term
that defined the motivations to question the nature of art by presenting new propositions as to arts nature, the
fluxus artist Henry Flynt is recognised as first introducing the term concept art to designate art composed as ideas
as early as 1960. Verwoert, Impulse Concept Concept Impulse, 165-175; Kosuth, Art After Philosophy.

95
exploring the dynamic process between the subject and the artistic form, Romantic
Conceptualism avoids a rehearsal of conceptualism as institutional critique which
ultimately results in a reading of conceptualisms critical legitimacy as failure. 222 This
reading rests solely on conceptualisms inability to challenge and transform the
apparatus of the art institution.223 Instead, by focusing on delineation of art as a
proposition that Kosuth advanced Verwoert engages with artistic gestures as actual
propositions, opening up Kosuths mandate of art as idea to reconsider the conception
of art as idea. 224

The significance of Romantic Conceptualism for this enquiry is that by reconfiguring


the notion of art as idea, it introduces a more comprehensive notion of thought. As
noted in Chapter One, rather than disbanding completely with form, a post-conceptual
acknowledges the role of the artistic form within the mediation of idea. Verwoert and
Heisers re-interpretation of conceptualism as Romantic provides a theoretical position
to develop a reading of the condition of thought in contemporary art by identifying
conceptual artworks that are bound to the strictures of analytical, exclusive or
strong conceptualism art that advance the mediation of idea as a purely analytical
enterprise. 225 By presenting specific conceptual works that initiate emotion within the
mediatory process Romantic Conceptualism opens up a narrow reading of
conceptualism as a purely logical inquiry [sic.] by acknowledging experience as
fundamental to this dynamic. 226

222
Alexander Alberro and Blake Stimson, ed., Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthology (Massachusetts: MIT Press,
1999).
223
Verwoert observes that Kosuth, like many other conceptual artists and critics, retrospectively regarded the
conceptual project as a failure. In his essay Intention(s) (1996). Kosuth describes the failure of conceptual artistic
gestures to shift the relations of power from critics, gallerists, curators and other representatives of the external world
to the artist. Blake Stimson observes that conceptualisms most sympathetic and perceptive critics tend to evaluate the
conceptualism as a failure. Stimson is most likely referring to Benjamin Buchohs essay Conceptual Art 162-169:
from Aesthetics of Administration to the Critique of Institutions, 1989 (published, among others, in Critical
Anthology). Verwoert, Impulse Concept Concept Impulse, 174.
224
How Verwoert read the proposition as an open form of appeal through the work of Robert Barry differs
considerably from Kosuths understanding of the proposition as a theoretical enterprise into the enquiry of art. Art
After Philosophy (1969), as a theoretical exercise of the enquiry of art is in essence performing a similar function to
Morriss Notes On Sculpture I, II, III, (1965), outlining the motivations of his work and practice. Although
Morriss Notes question the nature of art, he does not articulate this motivation explicitly. Kosuth on the other hand
makes this explicit by claiming, Being an artist now means to question the nature of art. This quote is taken from a
statement that Kosuth cites from a previous auto-interview published earlier that year in Arts Magazine. While
establishing the mandate art as idea Kosuths document also presents the idea of art as the motivating enquiry of
conceptualism as he outlines Artists question the nature of art by presenting new propositions as to arts nature. In
investigating what art might potentially be, the conceptual artwork as proposition expanded the theoretical enquiry
from a subsidiary enterprise to constitute the work itself. Kosuth, Art After Philosophy.
225
Osborne uses these terms to describe a rigid conceptual reading of art as an analytical enterprise. He identifies this
predominantly in the conceptual practices of Joseph Kosuth and the British group Art and Language. Osborne,
Conceptual Art and/as Philosophy, 65.
226
Lippard, Six Years, 5.

96
In Heisers Introduction to the exhibition in the accompanying catalogue, he draws
attention to the problematic of a canon that excludes from the conceptual art system
anything that might complicate the logical, analytical mandate of art as idea by noting
how the many practitioners were subjected to repeated restrictions to ensure key
players, primarily white, western and male, dominated the field. 227 Heiser argues
Romantic Conceptualism contributes to the canon by opening up a restricted reading of
conceptualism. He identifies curatorial projects that also expand readings of
conceptualism, such as Lucy Lippards 1973 group show, c 7500, which disproved the
widespread assumption that women did not make conceptual art, and the landmark
exhibition Global Conceptualism, Points of Origin 1950-1980, Queens Museum of Art,
New York/Walker Arts Centre, Minneapolis, 1999- 2000. As noted in Chapter One,
Osborne also raises the problematic of adhering to the parameters of conceptualism as
an analytical enquiry, identifying a tendency in exclusive conceptual art to conflate
artistic thought with analytic philosophical enquiry. 228 Heisers revisionist reading of
conceptualism reveals an overlooked fact that the majority of conceptual art
practitioners did not adhere rigidly to the strong conceptual parameters of art as an
analytical enquiry.

In her interview with Heiser in the accompanying exhibition catalogue Susan Hiller
discusses her dissatisfaction with the boundaries imposed from within the parameters of
conceptualism. 229 Hiller identifies a dogmatic tendency in conceptualism to posit art as
a cognitive exercise informed by rational logic, outlining the conceptual insistence of
the artwork as an analytic proposition. However, she maintains that many practitioners

227
It is important to note that Heiser appreciates why certain conceptual artists such as Kosuth and Art and Language
defined the tenets of the movement from the onset. The mandate of art as idea affirmed and established the
conceptual position that was vehemently contested from the outset. Jrg Heiser, Opening Remarks, in Romantic
Conceptualism, ed. Ellen Seifermann and Christine Kintisch. (Germany: Kerber Verlag, 2007a)
228
Osborne, Conceptual Art and/as Philosophy,58.
Kosuths definition of conceptual art has also been questioned by critic Jrg Heiser. Heiser draws attention to the
problematic of a canon that excludes from the conceptual art system anything that might complicate the logical,
analytical mandate of art as idea. However, although Heiser identifies this shortcoming, he appreciates why certain
conceptual artists such as Kosuth and Art and Language established such rigid tenets because the movement was
vehemently contested from the outset.
229
Hiller is defined as both a conceptual and a post-conceptual artist. She refers to this precarious positioning of her
oeuvre, and describes it as 'paraconceptual. By paraconceptual Hiller means just sideways of conceptualism and
neighbouring the paranormal. This implies a devalued site of culture where women and the feminine have been
conversely privileged. She claims in the hybrid field of paraconceptualism neither conceptualism nor the paranormal
are left intact ... as ... the prefix 'para' symbolises the force of contamination through a proximity so great that it
threatens the soundness of all boundaries." Susan Hiller, About, accessed September 15 2012,
http://www.susanhiller.org/about.html

97
did not adhere rigidly to the parameters of conceptual art as an analytical enquiry. 230
Hiller also draws attention to the dominant role of white male artists in conceptualism
and maintains they promoted a reading of conceptual art as an unemotional enquiry.
Hiller reads the self-reflexive proposition as limiting subject matter to whats already
in language and maintains for her generation of women (and other non-white artists)
that this was not what we wanted to say. 231 Hiller articulates how her conceptual
practice problematises the conceptual insistence of the artwork as an analytic
proposition by reflecting on the critical reception of her work, Dedicated to the
Unknown Artist Between 1972-1976. This work displaying her collection of hundreds of
postcards depicting rough seascapes from the British Coast was criticised by Art and
Language as being too visual. Hiller maintains had these images been black and white
rather than colour, this criticism may not have been levelled. She claims this work
problematised a straightforward conceptual interpretation because it did not adhere to
the language of conceptualism, in which the black-and-white image was accepted.
Hillers observation inadvertently demonstrates an indisputable sensible dimension
within strict conceptual art.

Post-conceptualism acknowledges the sensible aspect, critically re-engaging with the


post-medium condition on new grounds. It is important to iterate that this appreciation
of the artistic form does not designate a modernist return to a prioritisation of form, but
rather acknowledges the sensible dimension within the reading of the work. Rather than
an exclusive conceptual reading of art that denies experience, Romantic Conceptualism
acknowledges the sensible dimension within the reception of idea, positing the sensible
and experiential quality as essential to the way one thinks through art. Verwoert and
Heiser observe how Hiller, Piper and other conceptual artists such as the Brazilian
conceptual artists Helio Oiticica and Lygia Clarke, opened up new possibilities in art
by departing from the strict parameters laid out by the conceptual mandate of art as
idea. These practices extended the horizon of conceptualism by asserting emotion,
imagination and perception within the artworks mediatory process. 232

230
Benjamin Buchloh also claims the difficulty in attempting a retrospective survey of conceptualism due to the
impossibility of historicising the movement under a single, distinct definition, describing conceptual art as a
complex range of mutually opposed approaches. Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Conceptual Art 1962-1969: From the
Aesthetic of Administration to the Critique of Institutions, October (The MIT Press) 55 (Winter 1990): 105-143.
231
Jrg Heisers interview with Hiller in A Romantic Measure, in Romantic Conceptualism, ed. Ellen Seifermann
and Christine Kintisch. (Germany: Kerber Verlag, 2007b)
232
LeWitt articulates his appreciation of less rational forms of knowledge by acknowledging the process of intuition
in his Paragraphs. LeWitts claim that Ideas are discovered by intuition inadvertently compromised Kosuths

98
The emphasis on emotion and imagination underpins Verwoert and Heisers poetic
treatment of the conceptual proposition. In the essay Impulse Concept Concept
Impulse Verwoert focuses on these attributes to reflect on the communicative function
of conceptualism. Verwoert draws on the Romantic fragment, a poetic form developed
by Novalis. Unlike the classical pursuit of the finite, Romanticism sought the infinite.
By definition a fragment is part of something whole that is not present. The Romantic
fragment designates a finite part of an infinite whole. The Romantic pursuit to embody
the infinite informed this poetic form that departed radically from previous poetic
configurations which adhered to structure. Through reductive processes the Romantic
fragment sought to express the infinite. Romanticism is distinguished by the emphasis
on the imagination, because of it seeks to move beyond the confines of reason and
engage with the infinite. Heiser also registers a tendency shared by conceptualism and
Romanticism to prioritise the fragmentary and open over the systematic and
conclusive and maintains this indeterminacy asserts the impulse to imagine. 233

Verwoert reflects on the communicative function of certain conceptual works by


aligning Novaliss reading of the artistic form with conceptualism. Verwoert observes
how the impulse to imagine is implied by Novaliss definition of the poem as an
operation. Verwoert observes how this term distinguishes the poem as an open
process, a process that transfers the realisation of the work from the jurisdiction of the
artist to the subject within the encounter, citing Novaliss claim that the true reader
must be an extension of the author. 234 Novalis claim demonstrates the proximity of a
Romantic and a contemporary reading of art because it anticipates a developing concern
in contemporary art with the role of the viewer and the understanding that a work is
contingent on the perception of the viewer. 235 Verwoert draws attention to this

understanding of art as an analytical enterprise by introducing a more perceptive interpretation of the thinking in art.
This departure from thought processes bound to reason and logic more readily associated with exclusive
conceptualism is further iterated in the first of LeWitts thirty five rules, 1. Conceptual artists are mystics rather than
rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach. LeWitt, Paragraphs, 79.
233
Jrg Heiser, Moscow, Conceptualism, and After Alphabet, accessed November 10 2011,
http://www.marcellosimeone.com/blog/2012/04
234
Verwoert, Romantic Conceptualism, 165-175.
235
Foster coins the term the birth of the viewer in his essay The Crux of Minimalism, to articulate his
contemporary reading of art. This understanding of a work being determined by the subject who engages with the
work as opposed to the author or critic was advanced around this period in the field of literary criticism by Roland
Barthes. In his essay The Death of the Author (1967). Barthes proposed literary criticism as forced projection of the
ultimate meaning on a work. Barthes maintains that there can be no ultimate meaning bestowed on a piece of
literature as one could infer an ultimate explanation for it. He maintains that the proliferation of meaning in language
coupled with the unknowable state of the authors mind renders interpretation impossible. Barthes approaches the
notion of the knowable text from a political perspective claiming this to demonstrate the delusion of the grand

99
communicative function in conceptualism by observing how they, like the romantic
fragment necessitate engagement for their realisation. 236 As Verwoert notes, its
supposed intangibility can be made seem tangible for the moment, and in the same
moment it can be made to question whatever appears everyday and tangible by opening
it up towards an abstract idea. 237

Verwoert responds to a number of conceptual and post-conceptual works to describe


how they similarly assert the fragmentary and open through reductive processes. For the
purpose of examining how thought is implicated in work, I focus on Verwoerts poetic
reading of Robert Barrys conceptual propositions because thought constitutes the
essential medium of these works. Verwoert reflects on Barrys Inert Gas Series (1969),
All the Things I Know but of Which I am not at this Moment Thinking 1:36 PM June
15 (1969), and Prospect 69. Although Prospect 69 is not in the exhibition Romantic
Conceptualism, Verwoert discusses this work in the essay that accompanies the
exhibition in the catalogue. Verwoert focuses on these three works to describe how
Barrys reductive process extends the work from a fixed form to an open process. 238
Inert Gas Series consists of framed photographic documentation and short, succinct
descriptive texts. Inert Gas Series, Krypton consists of three colour photographs and
typewritten text that reads, From a measured volume to indefinite expansion. On
March 3rd 1969, in Beverly Hills, California one liter [sic.] of krypton was returned to
the atmosphere. Inert Gas Series, Helium consists of a slide, a black-and-white
photograph and catalogue page: Inert Gas Series, Helium. Sometime during the
morning of March 5th 1969, 2 cubic feet of helium will be released into the
atmosphere. All the Things I Know but of Which I am not at this Moment Thinking
1:36 PM June 15, an artwork that is simply the presentation of this statement printed
directly onto the gallery wall. Prospect 69 was commissioned for the Kunsthalle

narrative dominant in Western culture. He furthers his claim maintaining that completing the text with ultimate
meaning renders it more marketable and thus conforming to the idealogy of western capitalism.
236
Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, 29.
237
Verwoert, Romantic Conceptualism, 165-175.
238
Novalis's first fragments were published in 1798 in the Athenum, a magazine edited by the Schlegel brothers.
The importance of the fragment to Romanticism is outlined by Schegel, who claims, Many of the works of the
ancients have become fragments. Many modern works are fragments as soon as they are written. S. Sophie Thomas,
The Fragment: Towards a History and Poetics of a Performative Genre, 2004, Camilia Elias, Review, Hyperion,
III, No. 3, 208.

100
Dsseldorf gallery. However, this work did not appear in the physical space gallery but
was presented in the accompanying catalogue. 239 It reads,

Q. What is your piece for Prospect 69?


A. The piece consists of ideas which people will have from reading
this interview.
Q. Can this piece be shown?
A. The piece in its entirety is unknowable because it exists in the
minds of so many people. Each person can really know only that part
which is in his own mind. 240

Verwoert registers Barrys formal reduction of artistic form by observing his artistic
gestures do no more than write a text on the wall or send it as a postcard, or to carry
out a simple symbolic action and show a photo or short film about it. 241 For example,
Barrys gesture of releasing the invisible medium of gas into the desert literally opens
up the artistic form by extending the spatial dimension of art to a temporal one. When
describing Inert Gas Series Barry describes how it continues to expand forever in the
atmosphere, constantly changing. 242 Verwoert reflects on the indeterminate nature of
this work, describing it as an impulse for an open process of change in which it is
realised, but simultaneously also dissolves. 243

In the previous discussion formulate my reading of the intraphilosophical effect as


the capacity of art to activate thought. I formulate my reading of this elusive term by
observing Badious registration of an unnameable quality. Although Verwoert does not
use the term unnameable, his romantic reading of Barrys work reveals this particular

239
The structure and intent of Prospect 69 is comparable to Lawrence Weiners Statement of Intent, 1968, which
also features in Romantic Conceptualism.
The artist may construct the piece.
The piece may be fabricated.
The piece may not be built.
Each being equal and consistent with the intent of the artist and the decision as to condition rests with the receiver
upon the occasion of receivership.
Lawrence Weiner, Statement of Intent, 1968, in Romantic Conceptualism, ed. Ellen Seifermann and Christine
Kintisch. (Germany: Kerber Verlag, 2007).
240
Blake Stimson, The Promise of Conceptual Art, in Conceptual Art, A Critical Anthology, ed. Blake Stimson
(Cambridge, London: MIT Press, 1999), xxxxviii.
241
Verwoert, Impulse Concept Concept Impulse, 167.
242
Robert Barry, Romantic Conceptualism, ed. Ellen Seifermann and Christine Kintisch. (Germany: Kerber Verlag,
2007), 131.
243
Barry, Romantic Conceptualism, 169.

101
quality. Novalis describes the poetic operation as one that is still unknown. 244 By
correlating Barrys conceptual propositions with the Romantic fragment to reveal how
they activate thought. What is significant about Barrys propositions is that although he
uses the strategies that appear to transfer information in a succinct manner, his work
delivers very little in the way of information. Instead Verwoert claims his works are
saturated with meaning. The sophistication of Barrys propositions is that their
simplicity presents something that is difficult to define that is meaningful. This
unnamable quality is suggested by Barry when asked why he was reticent to explain
how his work functions.

I think there is an aspect of the unknown to all of our activities, and


attempting to explain it, takes away from what its about. I find that
explanations are very incomplete. Im still struggling with the mystery of
art. The more I think about it, and the more I think I know something
about this process that Im engaged in, the more I realize that I dont. 245

Barrys reflections articulate the unlikelihood of his propositions to transfer a single


discrete idea because they are unresolved. Verwoert observes how this provokes each of
us to conjure up our thoughts, he explains, The idea is actualized through an appeal
to its recipients to realise it within their own thoughts. 246 Like the Romantic fragment
Verwoert registers Barrys work as an operation that necessitates thought precisely
because very little is disclosed. Rather than approaching All the Things I Know as
cool or detached, Verwoert claims this work operates on an emotional level by
registering an appeal from this work to the percipient to enter into this philosophical
quandary. 247

Similarly, Prospect 69 does not generate a single common idea but rather sets the
conditions in which disparate forms of thought might be engendered each time the work
is encountered. Verwoert observes how the presentation of Prospect 69 in the
catalogue extends the artistic form beyond the confines of the gallery space, while
simultaneously extending the thinking beyond the jurisdiction of the artist. In this way

244
Verwoert, Romantic Conceptualism, 165-175.
245
Robert Barry, interviewed by Peter Eleey, Conceptual Radio, Flash Art no. 279 (July-September 2011), 169.
246
Verwoert, Impulse Concept Concept Impulse, 165-175.
247
Ibid.

102
Prospect 69 operates like the Romantic fragment in the way that it frees up thought
towards a collective process and in the way that it invites the viewer to formulate ideas
in an open, fragmentary way. 248 I use the term invite in a conscious manner because,
being less forceful than the term demand (that Badiou uses in his reading of
Mallarm) it acknowledges the possibility that thought might not be activated. In his
analysis of the performance event David Davies also observes that a performer cannot
be certain that their audience is in actual fact paying attention. 249 He identifies how
performances are designated by their call for engagement. What is at stake in Davies
analysis of the performance event is that this call designates the intention of the work
for an audience to engage. As outlined in the previous chapter, by approaching my
works as inviting thought articulates the intention of my artworks without claiming that
my works successfully activate thought. The term invite further iterates that the thinking
that might arise cannot be prescribed because it unfolds on a perceptive level through
the encounter. This observation further iterates that the work is contingent on the
subject within the encounter. Barry articulates this by claiming, Part of the nature of art
is that it is out there in the community; part of it is in other peoples minds. 250 When
asked about his work in relation to the public reception of idea Barry claims, what they
do with them afterwards is not in my control. 251

Heiser also reflects on how art activates the spontaneous unfolding of thought. He looks
to Friedrich von Schlegel, who claims good poetry and art in general is characterised by
the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings. Heiser observes how Schlegel aligns
this intensification of experience with the thought, quoting Schegel, it is equally deadly
for the mind to have a system and to have none. It consequently will have to decide to
connect both states. 252 Heiser observes a similar intellectual-emotional combination in
Barrys work. Verwoert develops this point by arguing the impossibility of approaching
Barrys work as a purely analytical enterprise because of its emotional quality.
Verwoert argues that this intellectual-emotional combination as the appellative quality
in Barrys work because it encourages further engagement with the work. Both Heiser

248
It is worth noting that Kantian aesthetics also captures the capacity of art to institute a collective level of appeal by
the term sensus communis. Sensus communis describes the universal capacity on the part of every human being to
sense from within the plurality of coordinates the flourishing of human life and what favors it.
249
Davies, David. Philosophy of the Performing Arts, (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 142-143.
250
This quote is taken from a discussion with Barry that was organised by Jeanne Siegel in the WBAI in New York.
Lippard, Six Years, 129.
251
Barry, Conceptual Radio.
252
Heiser, Opening Remarks, 138.

103
and Verwoerts observations are confirmed by Barry, who acknowledges the emotional
component as integral to the mediatory process in his work.

PE: Is emotion part of your work, or how you make it?


RB: The emotional component is important. You cant just rely on ideas, or
play with various art strategies. But I tend to not use the word emotion
anymore. I like to say engagement, which is usually an intellectual-
emotional combination. 253

The philosopher of art, Peter Lamarque also identifies emotion, experience and
perception within the process of communicating idea in his poetic reading of
conceptualism. Like Verwoert, Lamarque identifies how conceptual proposition
suggests meaning rather than presenting a formulated idea. However, unlike Verwoert,
Lamarque treats this indeterminate feature as a shortcoming. Although Lamarques
analysis of conceptualism is highly critical, his proposition that artistic thought differs
from an analytical enquiry is valuable to the enquiry because it further affirms my
observation of the role of experience in the thinking raised by art.

Lamarque observes how artistic thought differs from certain forms of philosophical
enquiry in the manner by which it is perceived. Like Verwoert and Heiser, Lamarques
identification of perception renders exclusive conceptual reading of art as an analytical
enterprise problematic. Lamarque sees the conceptual mandate of art as idea creates too
close an association between the philosophical or the literary (as in literary fiction as
distinct from the Romantic fragment) and maintains that it fall[s] short of both. He
claims that the conceptual artwork lacks the critical resources associated with
philosophy and literature to fully develop ideas. 254 Lamarque argues his claim by
observing how philosophy and literature (excluding certain forms of poetry and
undoubtedly the Romantic fragment) demonstrate two paradigmatic ways of developing
and working out the idea. Lamarque observes how philosophical enquiry develops ideas
through theory building, hypothesis and cognitive analysis. In literature, Lamarque sees
this performed through the unification and resolution of a subject, configured through a
literary theme. By observing in conceptualism a failure to fully engage with the analytic

253
Barry, Conceptual Radio.
254
Peter Lamarque, On Perceiving Conceptual Art, in Philosophy and Conceptual Art, ed. Peter Goldie and
Elizabeth Schellekens (New York: Clarendon Press, Oxford University Press, 2007), 7.

104
or the thematic, Lamarque aligns the conceptual proposition with poetry. Rather than
looking to the Romantic fragment, Lamarque looks to the poetic conceit a form of
metaphor associated with the 17th century metaphysical poets. The poetic conceit is
understood as having a conceptual and thus more tenuous relationship between the
things being compared. Lamarque describes how the idea develops and unfolds through
the poetic elaboration of the conceit as metaphor. He draws on the metaphysical poetry
of John Donne to present the process of the poem as, the whole frame of the poem is a
beating out of a piece of gold. In claiming ideas are only of interest when they are
articulated, worked out, when something is done to them, Lamarque maintains such
indeterminate forms necessitates the ingenuity of the spectator. 255 The necessity of
the spectator that Lamarque treats as a shortcoming (in a similar manner to Frieds
relation to minimalist and post-minimalist practices) is precisely its value.

By outlining the difference between the experience of reading conceptual artworks


and works of literature and philosophical enquiry Lamarque observes the distinctive
quality of conceptualism as offering a curious hybrid of experience. He maintains that
we should see conceptual art of the paradigmatic kind as offering a curious hybrid of
experience having parallels with, but not reducible to, the cerebral reflection of ideas of
philosophy. 256 Lamarques observation undermines the conceptual delineation between
the intellect and the senses by acknowledging the experiential within the mediation of
the conceptual artwork. 257 As outlined previously, it is important to note that experience
includes, but is not restricted to, sensory perceptual experience. By aligning the
conceptual proposition with poetry, Lamarque introduces other sensory forms, which
Verwoert and Badiou identify not just those associated with the lower senses, such
as vision, but more radically the higher senses such as perception, imagination, feeling

255
Lamarque, On Perceiving Conceptual Art, 8.
256
Lamarque furthers this point by stating, the apprehension of themes or conceits of literature and the perception of
sculpture and painting to prioritise any of these is in many cases to miss what is distinctive. In aligning the
conceptual proposition with aspects of poetry, Lamarque registers how conceptual art is further distanced from a
modernist reading of art. Lamarque, On Perceiving Conceptual Art .
257
This distinction between the intellect and experience is articulated by LeWitt, who claimed in order for the
artwork to be mentally interesting works it must be emotionally dry. In this way LeWitt iterates the tenets of
conceptualism which claim the formation of idea lies solely in the rational and logical domain of the intellect. It is
worth drawing the readers attention to the fact that LeWitt problematises this position further on in his Paragraphs
by claiming, In terms of ideas the artist is free even to surprise himself. Le Witts claim that artwork must be
emotionally dry is further undermined by his statement Ideas are discovered by intuition. Sol LeWitt, Paragraphs
on Conceptual Art, 1969, Artforum, June 1967. LeWitts acknowledgement of the intuition in the creation and
reception of work introduce processes that are different to those associated with reason and logic that are associated
with exclusive conceptualism associated with Kosuth and Art and Language. The irrational is identified two years
later in the first of LeWitts thirty-five rules, 1. Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalist. They leap to
conclusions that logic cannot reach. Le Witt, Paragraphs and Le Witt, Sentences, 0-9.

105
and emotion. We can consider this through Barrys 1969 Projects Class in that it cannot
be engaged with logically, because there is nothing to ground our position it can only
be encountered or perceived through the imagination.

Although 1969 Projects Class is not included in the exhibition Romantic


Conceptualism, Barrys seminal contribution to Askevolds course for students at
NSCAD allows me to conceive the possibility of an artwork to generate thought by
provoking the imagination. For 1969 Projects Class Barry sent a series of instructions
that reads:

The students will gather together in a group and decide on a single


common idea. The idea can be of any nature, simple or complex. This
idea will be known only to the members of the group. You or I will not
know it. The piece will remain in existence as long as the idea remains in
the confines of the group. If just one student unknown to anyone else at
any time, informs someone outside the group the piece will cease to
exist. It may exist for a few seconds or it may go on indefinitely,
depending on the human nature of the participating students. We may
never know when or if the piece comes to an end. 258

By inviting the imagination 1969 Projects Class offers an alternative means of


negotiating with the wider social order by demonstrating how an artwork can fulfil the
potential to free thought towards a collective process. 259 1969 Projects Class can be
seen to initiate inter-subjectivity and collectivity through the processes required for its
realisation that a group of students will come together and decide on a common idea.
The spirit of collective creativity which Verwoert registers in Jena Circle, a community
of poets, philosophers, dramatists and thinkers, is enforced by this premise. This spirit
of creative collectivity is articulated in Friedrich Schillers Letters Upon the Aesthetic
Education of Man (1798). Although Verwoert does not reference the Letters or Schiller

258
Concordia, Canadian Conceptual Art Projects Class, accessed November 10th 2011.
http://ccca.concordia.ca/resources/searches/event_detail.html?languagePref=en&vk=7539.
259
This twelve-week course was conceived by David Askevold with the support of Garry Neill Kennedy for fine art
students at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Halifax. Project Class was described in the college course
calendar:
"For students who do not want to specialize in a specific studio discipline. This course deals with traditional and
current art concerns and also uses information from other sources. Means of problem-solving are employed which
seek to avoid some of the presumptions of traditional media. The medium is considered as a vehicle which carries the
content under consideration and naturally poses its own problems." Mel Bochner, Robert Smithson, Douglas Huebler,
N.E. Thing Co. Ltd., Dan Graham, Sol LeWitt, Lucy Lippard, Joseph Kosuth, Jan Dibbets and Lawrence Weiner
were also involved and, like Barry, outlined a specific project on a card that was presented to the class. Concordia,
Canadian Conceptual Art.

106
for that matter, who was part of the Jena Circle, his Letters inform a Romantic notion of
art. I draw on Schillers Letters because they reaffirm Alberto Toscanos claim that art
institutes other spaces. 260 Toscano, who translated Badious Handbook from French
into English, designates this space as other because it is non-authoritarian and
maintains this quality furnishes a threshold into a space for thought. Schiller argues that
by invoking the imagination artworks have the capacity to inscribe a non-authoritarian
space of discourse because they furnish more open forms of experience and
exchange. 261 This non-authoritarian space of discourse is instigated by aesthetic
determination or spieltrieb (play drive). Aesthetic determination is proposed to connect
and maintain a balance of reason and the senses and in this way implicates the free play
of the imagination. As aesthetic determination is aligned with the imaginary it is
understood to encompass and embrace all reality because it is without determinable
limitations.262 In this way aesthetic determination articulates the capacity of art to
inscribe a non-authoritarian space of discourse. Aesthetic determination is also useful
when considering the multifarious forms of thought that are raised in Barrys work
through processes associated with reason and those associated with the senses. Rather
than a transference, aesthetic determination bridges matter (sensible) and form
(thought), initiating a transition from the passivity of sensuousness to the activity of
thought. 263 Because there are no images of this work, only anecdotal evidence, 1969
Projects Class can only be encountered or perceived through the imagination. This
space that 1969 Projects Class initiates is not confined to the temporal moment enacted
by the group of students in 1969, it extends beyond this moment to anybody who
chooses to engage with and experience the mediatory process of this work.

260
Alberto Toscano, The Sensuous Religion of the Multitude, Art and Abstraction in Negri , Third Text 23, no. 4
(2009), 372 .
261
Verwoert registers in conceptualism a similar complication of the systematic arrangement of reality that he
identifies in Romanticism. He observes the political inherent in this refusal of adhering to strict rationalism because
he sees this as provoking new forms of engagement by which to negotiate the wider social order. Verwoert observes
the Romantics as developing a concept of released collective creativity, through the developments in literature,
theatre, poetry and philosophical enquiry by the Jena circle. This more open form of creativity as an amalgam of
disciplines is demonstrated by an affiliation of German Idealism with Romanticism as evidenced by the Oldest
System Programme of German Idealism (1796). This programme, attributed to the philosophers Hegel and Schelling,
and the poet Hlderlin, outlines a new way of being in the world through philosophical aesthetics by claiming the
highest act of reason, which embraces all ideas, is an aesthetic act. By maintaining that the philosopher becomes like
a poet and the poet becomes like a philosopher the Oldest System Programme demonstrates a coexistence of artistic
and philosophical thought. Through philosophical aesthetics the notion of the philosopher as developing an aesthetic
sensibility is extended to every individual as the faculty that places man in relation to the word.
Verwoert, Impulse Concept Concept Impulse, 167.
262
By positing aesthetic determination as the faculty that places man in relation to the world Schiller articulates the
link between the aesthetic and the socio-political in Letter XIV. Friedrich von Schiller, Letters on the Aesthetics
Education of Man, German Original 1795, trans. Elizabeth M. Wilkenson and L.A.Willoughby (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1967).
263
Schiller, Letters on the Aesthetics, Letter XXIII

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3.4 Summary

Although Badiou is not an art critic and does not write about specific artworks his
formulation of inaesthetics contributes to the ongoing critique of aesthetics that is bound
into a contemporary reading of art. Badious thought plays a key role in discursive
space of contemporary art. Badiou contributes to art journals and also presents his line
of enquiry in public art institutions that include galleries, museums and not-for-profit
artist-run initiatives. 264 However, although Badiou claims inaesthetics is necessary for
contemporary art, he makes no reference to any forms of contemporary art practice to
support his thesis. Instead he draws on literary configurations to disclose how
inaesthetics reveals the operation of the artwork as a specific form of thought. 265

My engagement with inaesthetics allows me to develop my enquiry into the relationship


between art and philosophy and explore how thought might be raised by contemporary
art. In detailing my reading of Badious intraphilosophical effect I observe how
Badious identification of the unnameable quality of the poem gestures towards an
inherent quality of indeterminacy and how this quality is crucial to the operation of the
poem as activating thought. Badious identification of the demand of Mallarm
coupled with Verwoerts identification of the appeal articulate how they read the
artistic form to activate thought. These qualities inform my proposition that an artwork
could invite thought. The term invite is introduced as a key term for the enquiry because

264
For example, Badiou presented his 15 Theses on Contemporary Art in December 2003 in conjunction with the
publication Lacanian Ink at The Drawing Centre in New York. Other lectures include Does the Notion of Activist Art
Still Have Meaning, presented in October 2010 and Truth Procedure in Politics Video in November 2006 at the
Miguel Abrew Gallery, New York. Miguel Abrew Gallery opened in March 2006. The gallery history reads The
gallery stages one-person and curated group exhibitions, and organizes film screenings and lectures by leading
philosophers and critical theorists, such as Alain Badiou, Slavoj izek, Franois Laruelle and Quentin Meillassoux.
In 2011, the gallery's publishing division, Sequence Press, was established as a collaborative enterprise with British
publisher Urbanomic and among other titles has released Franois Laruelle's The Concept of Non-Photography, Nick
Land's Fanged Noumena, Quentin Meillassouxs The Number and the Siren, and Spine by R. H. Quaytman,
http://www.miguelabreugallery.com/EventsAndPostings.htm and The Subject of Art in 2005 at Deitch Projects.
Although Badiou has not as yet contributed within the framework of a biennial (Badious peer and critic Rancire has
participated in the Venice Biennial in 2011 as part of the Norwegian pavilion and as keynote at Frieze Art Fair in
2005), he is nonetheless embedded in the discursive space of contemporary art.
265
As noted, Badiou looks mainly to literary configurations to disclose the possibility of artistic thought. He also
looks at other artistic forms in the Handbook, which include theatre, dance and cinema, albeit to a lesser extent.
Osborne also argues a discrepancy in Badious analysis by observing that Badiou references essentially modernist art
forms to discuss contemporary art, an observation he uses to support his claim that Badiou is essentially a neo-
classicist. Jacques Rancire follows a similar trajectory in his criticism. He dedicates a chapter, Jacques Rancire,
Alain Badiou's Inaesthetic, The Torsions of Modernism, in Aesthetics and Its Discontents, 63-88 (UK, USA: Polity
Press, 2009) (first published in French as Malaise dans lEsthetique, 2004) critiquing inaesthetics as a return to
modernity by its desire to categorise and affirm the specificity of art. While accepting these arguments, I see the
value of inaesthetics to the enquiry because this schema provides an aesthetic framework to support a rigorous
exploration into the condition of thought in art.

108
it articulates how the thinking raised by art cannot be prescribed because it is dependant
on the subjects encounter with the artwork. I also draw on Larmarque who to further my
understanding of the perceptive nature of our encounter with art, confirming my
observation from my own post-conceptual practice outlined in the previous chapter that
my works engage on an experiential, perceptive and imaginative level. This affirms
Osbornes rhetorical question that asks if the philosophical meaning of the work be
wholly abstracted from its material means by affirming that the thinking raised by art is
determined by the artistic form. These insights that arise from my engagement with
inaesthetics support my provisional proposition that the thinking in art is bound with
experience. These insights are brought to bear in my analysis of the three event-based
works that constitute the research project in the following chapter.

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CHAPTER FOUR: EXPLORING THE PHILOSOPHICAL CHARACTER OF ART
THROUGH ENACTMENT

4.0 Overview

This chapter presents the research project as it is developed through three event-based
works, Gatherings (Transitory Encounters), Mystical Anarchism and the later iterations
of Metaphysical Longings (designated by the numerals II, III, IV, V, VII). As the main
body of the research project is configured by artworks the ambition of these works to
enact other spaces ultimately defines the ambition of the research project. This chapter
outlines how the enquiry takes place through the development, enactment and critical
reflection on these artworks. Individual accounts detail how these works are enacted.
An analysis into the philosophical character of these works is developed over three
discussions.

The first discussion examines how the research project intensifies my engagement with
philosophical enquiry. Rather than bringing philosophical enquiry and art practice
together in an explicit manner, I outline how the artwork as event further intensifies the
entwinement between the domains of contemporary art and philosophy. I present the
possibility of contemporary art to implicate philosophical meaning by reflecting on
performative methods used in the enactment of the event-based works.

The second discussion examines how the works advance the working definition of the
research project. I consider how these works seek to enact other spaces by reflecting on
the process of staging, drawing on Paul Thoms analysis of performance and on the
insights gained from my engagement with ritual theory. I outline how this process of
staging develops through the research by structuring the event to mirror the tripartite
stages of ritual. I focus on Mystical Anarchism to reflect on how this process engenders
interplay between the content and the context and examine the potential of this to
further implicate philosophical thought on an experiential and symbolic level.

The third discussion focuses on the later iterations of Metaphysical Longings to explore
the possibility of an artwork to invite thought. I reassert my provisional claim that the

110
thinking raised by art is bound with experience by reflecting on the processes used in
this work. I draw on Brian Massumi and Simon O Sullivans reading of affect to
develop this claim and propose that the condition of thought in art is essentially
affective. The discussion outlines how my identifying the affective nature of thought in
my event-based works allows me to conceive of the specificity and particularity of the
thinking engendered by art.

Before providing individual accounts of the art works I discuss my reading of event as
an artistic form. This discussion develops from the analysis of my post-conceptual
practice in Chapter Two that details how the event emerged as a framework to perform
as the working definition of the research project. This discussion proposes the
applicability of the event for this enquiry because it presents the artwork as an open
process that has the potential to extend thought from the jurisdiction of the artist to the
wider collective. This discussion also introduces the term percipient and presents how I
formulate this term and argue it as more comprehensive and concise to designate the
subject encountering contemporary art than the conventional term viewer. These
insights that emerge from the research project - the formulation of the term percipient
and the proposition that the condition of thought in art is essentially affective, are not
only significant to the enquiry, but are significant in their own right because they
contribute to the wider discourse on contemporary art.

4.1 The Research Project Three Artworks as Events

The emergence of the event as an artistic form has been hugely significant in informing
the focus of enquiry and how the research has been performed. I define Gatherings
(Transitory Encounters), Mystical Anarchism and Metaphysical Longings as events
because they are temporary and require a gathering for their enactment. I use the term
event to distinguish these works from theatre and most forms of performance art that are
more focused on the actor/performer. I also do not name these events Happenings
because this is now understood to designate a particular moment in art and cultural
history. Although Happenings are essentially event-based there are certain criteria that
Allan Kaprow stipulated in his essay, Assemblages, Environments and Happenings
(1965). The first and most essential criterion is stated from the onset: A. The line

111
between art and life should be kept fluid and as indistinct as possible. The third
stipulation is recorded as C. The performance of a Happening should take place over
several widely spaced, sometimes moving, changing locales. This is to differentiate a
Happening from a performance, which Kaprow describes as, A single performance
space tends towards the static and, more significantly, resembles conventional theatre
pieces.... Because my works seek to create other spaces, their intention differs
considerably from the intention to blur art and life that Kaprow proposes. That Kaprow
later abandoned Happenings for the more generic term Activities due to its overuse in
popular media also informs my decision to use the generic term event in favour of the
term Happening. I also avoid the terms participatory art and relational art because my
artworks do not seek to explicitly coerce participation. Nicolas Bourriaud defines
Relational Aesthetics as artistic gestures that take] as its theoretical horizon the realm
of human interactions and its social context and create alternate interactive spaces and
platforms from communication zones which are constructed and imposed. 266 Unlike
relational artistic practices that utilise collectivity as the content, the collective operates
in my artworks as the context rather than as the content, furnishing the possibility of my
artworks to enact other spaces on a symbolic and experiential level. I use the generic
term event to describe my works because this term admits the transcategorical quality
of the works while conveying their overarching form. 267

Because events are temporary this artistic form foregrounds the overarching concern in
my post-conceptual practice with thought and experience. The development of the event
as the primary artistic form for the research project has resulted in more large-scale
ambitious artworks. The event presents an unrestricted artistic form that necessitates
others to partake in its enactment and realisation. In this way the event presents an
artistic form that moves towards a collective process extending the work from the
jurisdiction of the artist to the group. This expansive quality is enhanced through each
artworks enactment as multiple iterations. The artworks cannot be described as single,
discrete events because they are all constituted by multiple iterations, for example,
Gatherings (Transitory Encounters) took place over three evenings in June 2008 and

266
Nicolas Bourriaud, Postproduction, Culture as Screenplay: How Art Reprogrammes the World. New York: Has &
Sternberg, 2002.
267
Yann Chateign, Manuel J. Borja-Villel and Pedro G. Romero, Bernard Blistne, A Theatre Without Theatre
(Barcelona/Lisbon: Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Fundao de Arte Moderna e Contempornnea-
Coleco Berardo, 2007), 226.

112
Mystical Anarchism and Metaphysical Longings have developed through numerous
iterations over a protracted period of time. The expansive nature of these works permits
a reading of the artwork as an open process.

In Chapter Two, I described my artworks (drawings, installations, etc.) as artefacts that


attest to my engagement with philosophy. The insights gained from engagement with
art theory and inaesthetics enable me to reflect on each drawing as an open process. By
not presenting a clear philosophical position they necessitate the viewer to formulate
their own meaning and become involved in the explorative process of enquiry through
their encounter with these works. The event furthers this notion of the artwork as an
open-process more explicitly because it provides an unrestrictive artistic form to extend
the philosophical question of being to others so that they might engage with this
question in a more direct capacity. The event provides an extra-textual framework to
develop my overarching concern with thought and experience.

The three event-based artworks, Gatherings (Transitory Encounters), Metaphysical


Longings and Mystical Anarchism seek to raise philosophical ideas in a non-didactic
way using performative methods. Although each artwork differs considerably, they
ultimately share the same ambition to enact other spaces. To fulfil this ambition all
three events use a process of staging. I focus on this process to explore the possibility
that the artworks could implicate philosophical ideas and invite thought. Although each
artwork differs, each event is staged on a large, over-sized hand-stitched mat (Fig. 32).
This 17 metre x 7 metre mat took over six months to make and is made from two
opulent fabrics, cashmere and velvet. Although there was great care taken in making
this mat, and its size is monumental, I do not refer to it as an artwork. I consider the
event as the artwork and the mat as a prop that supports the enactment of this temporary
artistic form. The critic Dorethea Von Hantelmann uses the term prop in her analysis
of Morriss Bodyspacemotionthings (1971). 268 Bodyspacemotionthings comprises huge
beams, weights, platforms, rollers, tunnels and ramps, with photographs presented
beside each object demonstrating how they could be used. Von Hantelmann describes
these works as props because they function in the enactment of this work through their

268
Dorethea Von Hantelmann, On the Socio-Economic Role of the Art Exhibition, in Corner-Stones, ed. Nicolaus
Schafhausen, Monika Szewczyk Juan A. Gaitan (Rotterdam/Berlin: Witte de With Centre for Contemporary Art,
Stenberg Press), 275.

113
capacity to invite physical engagement. She notes how these objects function to
transform the spatial and experiential relation of the subject in the space by trigger[ing]
self-perception or self-confrontation of the subject, rather than an absorption into the
object. 269 Von Hantelmanns reading of the object as a prop reassigns the emphasis
from the object to an aesthetic of subjective and inter-subjective
experience. 270Although this handcrafted mat does not share the same industrial quality
of the minimalist objects in Bodyspacemotionthings, it follows the same functionary
role as the objects in Morriss work. The purpose of installing this mat in a gallery was
not to exhibit an object for a viewer to behold but to support the event by demarcating
the space and furnishing this space for a group to gather. The conception of the mat as a
prop reasserts the emphasis on thought and experience that underlines the research
project. 271

269
The idea of the art object as a prop is also exemplified in Brazilian conceptualism through Hlio Oiticicas
Parangols. Although the Parangols appear as fabric forms, Oiticica made these with the intention that they be
worn as capes. The intention of the Parangol is to mobilise specific experiential states in the participants, as
articulated by the title, slang Portuguese that translates as idleness, a sudden agitation, an unexpected situation, or a
dance party. Oiticica produced the Parangols with the specific intention that they be worn to perform the samba.
Rather than art object, the Parangols would be better approached as a temporary experience that becomes enacted
each time the cape is worn, used and handed on to another dancer within the gathering (Oiticica fabricated them in
such a way that they could be easily removed). Like Morriss components in Bodyspacemotionthings and Oiticicas
Parangols the mat functions within the overarching task of each work to structure experience. How the mat
functions in the enactment of the event reaffirms the shift in my practice from a concern with artistic form to a
concern with experience thought and the critical demand of contemporary art.
270
Von Hantelmann, On the Socio-Economic Role of the Art Exhibition, n.p.
271
The mat was made specifically for the enactment of Gatherings, (Transitory Encounters). The purpose of
installing this mat in the gallery was to provide a platform for the series of events. On reflection the mat modified the
conditions of the gallery on the opening night and during the enactment of The Materialisation of the Phantom Muse
and the screening of The Great Ecstasy of the Woodcarver Steiner. The experience of being in the public space of the
gallery in stocking feet altered the visitors interaction with the space and, more significantly, with one another. The
softness of the fabric underfoot, being made of cashmere and moleskin, compelled people to sit and recline in the
formal space of the art gallery. This slight modification to each individuals physical attitude informed the dynamic in
the space disrupting the normative mode of interaction that usually occurs on the opening night of an exhibition. The
presence of the mat disrupted the social hierarchies that are often presented in the art world. The presence of the mat
seemed to effect the dynamic in the gallery on an inter-subjective level as curators, established artists, emerging
artists and art students sat/reclined together on the mat in their stocking feet.

114
Figure 32: Hand-made mat of cashmere, moleskin, cotton (17 m x 7 m).

115
In Chapter Two I outlined how the event emerged as an artistic framework that could
enact an other space to invite thought. This notion of the artistic event is proposed by
Schechner who reads the art event as a space to engender thought, describes how they,
like ritual, make[s] the space, or create[s] isolated nodes of spatial meaning. 272 This
reading of art as a space for thought is extended by Toscano by his claim that art enacts
other spaces to engender thought. Through my reflections on Metaphysical Longings in
Chapter Two I formulate the proposition that the event provides an applicable artistic
framework to conduct an enquiry into the philosophical character of art. This
proposition is reasserted in this chapter by presenting how the non-discursive
performative processes particular to this artistic event allow me to explore how
philosophical ideas might be implicated in art.

My reading of event is primarily informed by my art practice. It differs from Badious


philosophical interpretation of event that is based on the concept of novelty. The
everyday reading of event, something that affects change, mediating a before and an
after in three-dimensional time, is both temporal and narrative. As outlined in Chapter
Three, Badious event is indeed a moment of change a fundamental change in that it is
understood to have no relation to the situation in which it occurs. It is conceived not as
a link in a narrative chain, but as an absolute novelty, a pure beginning, which is
literally unnameable in the language of the situation. 273 Because Badious event is
something that occurs unexpectedly it cannot be staged. 274 This differentiates my
reading of event from Badious because my events are staged in specific designated
locations and at particular times. However, although these events are staged they are
centred on furnishing others to encounter a liminal state as an experience that is other
to our quotidian experience. These temporary artworks exemplify a reading of the
artwork as an open-process because they are dependent on the collective. Although the
philosophical interpretation of event in Badiou does not regard event as cultural
phenomena, it is worth noting that Badiou proposes a requirement of contemporary art
as the construction of a new collective. Badiou maintains that the artworks ability to

272
Richard Schechner, An Interview with Allan Kaprow, in Happenings and Other Acts (New York: Routledge,
1995), 188.
273
Badiou, Infinite Thought, 36-37 and Hallward, Think Again, Alain Badiou, xxiv.
274
Paul M. Livingston observes that both Being and Event (1988) and its sequel Logic of Worlds: Being and Event II
(2009) posit if the event is to be truly transformative it amounts to the sudden, unpredictable advent to appearance of
a kind of phenomenon that could not possibly be discerned within the previously existing situation. Paul M.
Livingston, Logic of Worlds: Being and Event II, Notre Dame Philosophical Review, accessed April 2 2014,
https://ndpr.nd.edu/news/24192-logics-of-worlds-being-and-event-ii/.

116
construct such a collective is essential because the idea is experienced and investigated
through the presence of the public. 275 This enquiry uses the event as an artistic form to
explore how philosophical ideas might be raised on a collective, experiential and
perceptive level.

The events that configure the research project are premised on a gathering and prioritise
subjective and inter-subjective experience. The research project raises an issue that I
identify in contemporary art discourse with the term viewer. I propose that this term is
insufficient to designate the subject who encounters my artworks as events. I formulate
the term percipient in response to this issue, arguing that this term is more
comprehensive and concise than the conventional term viewer to distinguish the
subject engaged in the artworks within the research project. The act of looking accounts
for one of many ways we encounter these works and contemporary art in general. As
noted in Chapter Two, contemporary art incorporates a vast array of artistic forms that
might not necessarily be encountered on a visual level, for example, there is no visual
framework to engage with Pipers Funk Lesson. Similarly Barrys 1969 Project Class,
detailed in the previous chapter, can only be encountered through imagination and
perception. Similarly, little, or rather no emphasis is placed on the act of looking in my
artworks as events and in the case of Metaphysical Longings the act of looking is
prohibited as the instruction to close your eyes is relayed in each iteration of this
work. Like Metaphysical Longings, the emphasis in all the artworks that configure the
research project is on experience and ultimately thought.

275
In this way the event serves as a useful framework to furnish a consideration of the collective directly. The
collective links the temporal forms (i.e. the now) with the spatial forms (i.e. the here the presence of a crowd in
place). Elie During, A Theatre of Operations, A Discussion Between Alain Badiou and Elie During, in A Theater
Without Theater, 22-27 (Barcelona: Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, 2009), 25.

117
4.1.1 Gatherings (Transitory Encounters)

Gatherings (Transitory Encounters) marks the first public presentation of the research
project. This work took place over three evenings from 6pm 9pm as my contribution
to the group exhibition Trapezium at The Lab in June 2008 (Fig. 35). Trapezium also
featured the work of three other Irish artists, a series of paintings by Orla Whelan, a
collage constructed out of hundreds of small individually etched labels by Sinead O
Reilly and suspended paper balloons by Janine Davidson. For Gatherings (Transitory
Encounters), the public was invited to the gallery for three events that sought to engage
with liminality as an experiential and psychological state. Rather than engaging with
liminality explicitly, Gatherings (Transitory Encounters) sought to develop alternate
methods of engagement that might instigate a collective form of enquiry in an extra
textual manner. (Fig. 33, 34)

Figure 33 & 34 Research/Working Notebook

A large mat measuring 17 metres by 7 metres was produced in the developing stage of
Gatherings (Transitory Encounters). Because the mat covered the entire space, (the
dimensions of the mat mirrored the dimensions of the gallery) the visitors were required
to remove their shoes when entering the gallery. The three events were enacted on this
mat. A yoga nidra session was facilitated to inaugurate the first event. The second event
The Materialization of the Phantom Muse, incorporated an audio-visual performance by
Dr. John Cussans, and a musical performance with Neil McAvinia and his band
VooDoo Wray (Fig. 36, 37. A screening of The Great Ecstasy of the Woodcarver
Steiner (1974), a documentary of the world ski-flying champion Walter Steiner directed

118
by Werner Herzog, marked the final event. 276 The mat remained in the gallery for the
duration of the exhibition.

Figures 35: Gatherings (Transitory Encounters) (2008).

Figure 36 & 37: Gatherings (Transitory Encounters) (2008).

276
The screening of The Great Ecstasy of the Woodcarver Steiner was kindly supported by the Goethe Institute.

119
4.1.2 Mystical Anarchism

Mystical Anarchism designates an event that was first enacted on August 2nd 2009 in
Glendalough, Co. Wicklow (Fig. 39). This event as a secret midnight lecture, was
developed and realised in collaboration with the philosopher Simon Critchley. It was
held without authorisation from the National Park. Over one hundred people were
gathered together on a mat in a forest by the upper lake to hear Critchleys lecture that
invoked the Movement of the Free Spirit, a group of 13th century mystics. Critchley
focused on Marguerite Porete through her strange handbook, The Mirror of Simple and
Annihilated Souls (and Who Remain Only in Wanting and Desire of Love). Critchley
disclosed how this handbook led to Poretes charge of heresy in 1310 and her refusal to
disavow the message of her handbook led to her execution at the stake. Critchley
recounted the seven stages that Porete maintained necessary to annihilate the soul and
bring about a transcendental encounter with the divine. In his lecture Critchley observes
the political implications of the process of self-deification, outlining how this process
captures the ethos of the movement by presenting the self as a dividual. In its
departure from the individual, the dividual subject enables a consideration of more
socially bound forms of collectivity. In maintaining the spirit is free then all
conceptions of mine and thine vanish, Critchley proposed the tenets of the Movement
of the Free Spirit as offering a new way of being in the world that adheres to notions of
freedom and equality. 277 Critchley described this process as both mystical and
anarchistic because the internalisation of religious authority that these mystics practiced
effectively undermines the hierarchies of the Church and, by extrapolation, the State.
Following the lecture a conversation was opened out to the group. This conversation
was drawn to a close after forty minutes due to rain.

Mystical Anarchism also designates a thirty-minute film that documents this intimate
lecture. A DVD of this film accompanies the thesis. Nothing can be seen in this film bar
Critchleys face, which is illuminated by his head torch, and a momentary glimpse from
a camera flash illuminating the forest where he stands. Mystical Anarchism also
incorporates an event that took place in Dublin on 28th March 2012 in a semi-
constructed, vacant commercial building in the Smithfield area of Dublins city

277
A transcript of the paper Mystical Anarchism is provided in the appendix of the thesis.

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centre. 278 The intention of enacting Mystical Anarchism three years after the original
event in Glendalough was to screen the film and in this way resume the conversation in
the forest by the upper lake that had been curtailed by rain. There were three stages to
the event (Fig. 39). Firstly Edia Connole hosted A Taste of Faith, a last supper for over
two hundred and fifty people. 279 For A Taste of Faith Connole conceived a menu based
specifically on key ingredients that are referenced in medieval mystical texts (Fig. 40,
41). Connole outlined the significance of each dish, for example explaining the single
hazelnut on each plate referenced Poretes claim that God had revealed the universe to
her in a hazelnut. Following supper the group were led through the building to the
second floor. The mat used in the original enactment of Mystical Anarchism was laid
out for the screening of the film. Following the thirty-minute screening the conversation
between Simon Critchley and over two hundred and fifty people on the mat that lasted
over three hours. (Fig.42)

278
I worked with Block T, an artist-run studio to secure this space for the event.
279
Brian Hunt, David Fagan and Kathy Tynan participated in this event. This supper was multi-layered, the food
appeared as slop referencing prison slops and the notion of a last super that is offered to those who are about to be
executed (think Porete) Although delicious, the formlessness of the food had an abject quality about it. This was an
important element in relation to the premise of this work in which the participants faith in Connole, (the chef) was
tested. A transcript of the paper is provided in the appendix of the thesis. Connole played a major role in the
realisation of Mystical Anarchism. Connole also features in the film Parodos as one of the thirteen silent masked
members of the chorus and subsequently facilitated the public conversation with Mark Fisher following his lecture as
part of The Long Dark Night.

121
Figure 38: Mystical Anarchism (2009).
An unsanctioned midnight lecture with Simon Critchley, Glendalough, Co. Wicklow.

122
Figure 39: Mystical Anarchism (2012)
A Taste of Faith hosted by Edia Connole, screening and public conversation with Simon
Critchley

123
Figures 40: Menu, A Taste of Faith, Edia Connole and Scott Wilson

124
Figure 41: Mystical Anarchism (2012).
A Taste of Faith - a last supper for 250 people.

Figure 42: Mystical Anarchism (2012).


Conversation on the mat.

125
The final iteration of Mystical Anarchism (differentiated from the previous iterations by
the additional title, The Closing of Mystical Anarchism) ran from 18th October 2012
13th January 2013 in the Hugh Lane Gallery, as part of an ongoing project,
Sleepwalkers: Production as Process, An Experiment in Exhibition Practice, curated by
Michael Dempsey. 280 The first gallery featured the original design of the mat used on
the invitation. The film Mystical Anarchism was also screened in this space, a small-
scale projection directly onto the wall. A parabolic speaker was positioned above a
small structure that housed the projector and functioned as a bench for two people. A
passageway painted in yellow ochre leads from the first gallery to the second gallery
hidden from view by heavy yellow ochre velvet curtains. The mat that was used in the
original event in Glendalough and for the subsequent screening in Block T was laid out
in the gallery. This gallery was dimly lit by a salmon-peach glow and infused with a
heavy scent reminiscent of the musky smell in a forest. Unlike the previous iterations of
Mystical Anarchism the philosopher was not present (Fig. 43).

Figure 43: The Closing of Mystical Anarchism (2012/13) (detail)


280
Sleepwalkers: Production as Process, An Experiment in Exhibition Practice, Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery.
Artists: Clodagh Emoe, Sean Lynch, Gavin Murphy, Jim Ricks, Linda Quinlan and Lee Welsh. Curators: Michael
Dempsey, Logan Sisley and Maryisia Wiekiewicz-Carroll. http://hughlane.wordpress.com

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4.1.3 Metaphysical Longings

Metaphysical Longings has evolved since its first enactment in 2006. To date
Metaphysical Longings has taken place in four different locations. Although each
iteration differs they follow the same structure in that a group gathers in a particular
space and a particular time, lies down, together on a large mat, closes their eyes and
listens to an audio relaying pre-recorded instructions. These instructions are informed
by a technique of guided visualisation associated with yoga nidra. There are four stages
in this instructive process: the first draws attention to the body in space (by focusing on
particular parts of the body through visualisation and feeling); the second seeks to bring
awareness of the body in time (by reflecting back on the entire day, focusing on
particular activities, events, people, objects, etc.); the third stage brings the awareness of
the world (by imagining particular objects) and the final stage brings the awareness to
the subject as part of collective (by returning to the here and now and re-engaging with
the body within group). In the third stage specific objects are listed for the percipient to
visualise. In yoga nidra these objects are typically linked with images associated with
the yogic tradition, for example a lotus flower, a shiva lingam, an elephant riding on a
rat, etc. 281 The audio has developed since the first enactment of this work becoming
more specific so that the content of the audio links with the context (the location and
time of the event).

Metaphysical Longings II was enacted in the public museum, the National Gallery of
Ireland, at 8pm on the 10th March 2010 as part of the curatorial project Invisible (Fig.
44, 45). 282 I placed an open invitation in the VAI, limiting the group to thirty. The group
was requested to meet at the back entrance of the museum. On arrival the group were
welcomed and led through the darkened length of the Milton Wing to a dimly lit empty
gallery where a mat was laid out on the floor. 283 Once the group had removed their
shoes and laid down on the mat the audio began. The series of objects relayed in the

281
The deity Ganesh is represented as half elephant, half human and is claimed to ride on a rat.
282
This project was supported by the Black Church Print Studio in Dublin and was curated by Oliver Dowling, John
Graham and Mags O Brien. I had identified an empty gallery in the museum for the event some time ago and
following up with the authorities learned that the atmospheric conditions deemed it unsuitable to house precious
artworks.bngvgv
283
The atmospheric conditions of this room adjacent to the Millton Wing are unsuitable for paintings.

127
third stage of the instructive process referenced the images depicted in the paintings
hanging in the Milton Wing. For example, apples on the grass referenced Walter
Osbornes Apple Gathering, Quimperl (1883) and a bolt of lightening referenced
the famous Francis Danby painting The Opening of the Sixth Seal (1828). The image of
the lightening bolt is evocative to many because it was revealed in the following the
restoration of this work. After waking the group remained on the mat for some time
conversing quietly amongst each other.

Figure 44 & 45: Metaphysical Longings II.


National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin.

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Figure 46: Invitation to participate in Live@8 from Ruby Wallis.

Metaphysical Longings IV took place at 8pm on 30th March 2011, in a pub in County
Galway. Metaphysical Longings IV was the first of a series of performative works that
were enacted for Live@ 8, curated by Ruby Wallis (Fig. 46, 47).284 Metaphysical
Longings IV developed from the previous iteration at the NGI and played with the
notion of developing the National Programme to a pub in Co. Galway. The National
Programme involves key institutions lending artworks to regional galleries.
Metaphysical Longings IV sought to initiate a space so that a group might collectively
encounter the paintings from the Milton Wing in the National Gallery of Ireland. Rather
than bringing the paintings to the pub, Metaphysical Longings III sought to furnish the
groups encounter with these works on a perceptive level. For example, the evocative
statement bolt of lightning referencing The Opening of the Sixth Seal (1828) enabled
the group to perceive this painting on a collective level. For Metaphysical Longings IV
the pub was prepared in advance of the event. All the chairs and tables were removed
284
Live@8 was a bi-monthly interdisciplinary live event in Galway, presenting new contemporary art performance,
video, film, sound and music in a social context. Organised by Vivienne Dick, Maeve Mulrennan and ine Phillips it
ran from April 2008 to June 2013. Live@8 has shown and presented the work of hundreds of live artists, film makers
and musicians, with each event guest curated by notable Irish and international curators and artists. http://live-at-
eight.blogspot.ie. This particular event included a monologue by Paul Timmoney, a live sound work by Suzanne
Walsh and an audio-visual piece by Alice Maher and Vivienne Dick.

129
and the mat was laid out covering the entire floor. On arrival to the pub the visitors were
requested to remove their shoes. When everybody had settled, Metaphysical Longings
IV was introduced as part of the National Programme. As with the case of the previous
iterations, the group lay down on the mat, closed their eyes and listened to the
instructions (Fig. 48). Following Metaphysical Longings IV the group remained on the
mat, which functioned as an auditorium/stage for the proceeding performances that ran
until midnight. At the end of the night the audience helped me roll up the mat and fit it
into my Mazda 121.

Figure 47: Introduction to Metaphysical Longings IV

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Figure 48: Metaphysical Longings III.
Live at 8, Bar 8, Co. Galway.

Metaphysical Longings III was enacted at midday on 4th May 2010 in the Gallerie Sint-
Lukas with students from the MA Transmedia course at the Hogeschool Sint-Lukas,
Brussels as part of a two-day workshop. Rather than outlining how the notion of
indeterminacy and alternate temporalities could be explored through art, Metaphysical
Longings III operated as an alternative to a standard lecture to disclose this notion
through enactment. Metaphysical Longings III sought to enact a space where the
students might experience the previous exhibition on a perceptive level. In preparation
for the event I visited the gallery to see the previous exhibition, taking note of features
that stood out in the exhibition and that were peculiar to the space. These objects
relayed in the third stage of the audio track which listed features that I identified in the
exhibition. When it was time to present a lecture I led the group out of the classroom
into the darkened gallery where the mat was laid out. Metaphysical Longings III lasted
for forty-minutes. Following this session the group helped roll up the mat.

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Figure 49:Research/Working Notebook.

Metaphysical Longings V took place at midday in a suburban garden in County Dublin


as part of a three-day site-specific project Portrait of a Space, 9th 11th September
2011. 285 This project was curated by Teresa Gillespie and Rose Lejeune and took place
in Clonlea Studios. These studios are located in a beautiful garden and include a yoga
studio and a foundry. 286 In preparation I visited the site of Clonlea Studio with Teresa in
advance of the event, taking note of specific features such as the water lilies floating in
the pond by the studio, a bronze sculpture of a woman that was installed in a tree and a
strange-shaped tree described by Teresa as a Goddess Tree. These features informed
the list of images referenced in the audio (Fig.49). Metaphysical Longings V was
scheduled to follow Jan Verwoerts lecture at midday. Verwoerts lecture The Devils
in the Thing Talks to the Devils Out There [sic] details Verwoerts perception of
sculpture as an action performed with things in space. Verwoert posed two questions
relating to action: What kind of action? And what this space might designate, physical
space, social space and/or the space of history? After Verwoerts lecture Teresa ushered
the group out from the lecture space to the garden, asking them to lay the mat on the

285
Portrait of a Space took place in September 2011 and was curated by Teresa Gillespie and Rose Lejeune.
http://portraitofspace.wordpress.com Participants include critics and theorists, Jan Verwoert, Andrea Philips and
Francis Halsall and international artists Thomas Kratz, Sally Ginger Brockbank, Jesse Jones, and Boyle and Shaw.
286
Clonlea Studio was established by Teresas Father, Ronan Gillespie, an Irish sculptor who specialises in bronze
casting.

132
lawn in between two large speakers. In this iteration of Metaphysical Longings the
source of the audio was present. The group lay down and listened to the instructions.
When the group awoke they remained reclining on the mat for some time, after which
they rolled up the mat and squeezed it into my Mazda 121. (Fig 50, 51).

Figure 50 & 51: Metaphysical Longings V.


Jan Verwoert reclining and rolling up mat.

4.2 The Research Project Entwining Art and Philosophy Through Enactment

Since embarking on the formal enquiry, philosophy has become further integrated in the
activities that constitute my practice. These activities include my participation in a
reading group focusing on the philosophical interpretation of event and my convening
The Experiential, a bi-monthly aesthetics reading group. I see these activities as part of
my post-conceptual practice, because they are crucial to the development of my work.
These activities also inform the development of the research project because they offer
point of entry to further engage with philosophical enquiry and have led to
collaborations with philosophers and thinkers that include Dr. John Cussans, Edia
Connole and Simon Critchley. This discussion outlines how the research project as the
development and enactment of event-based works, intensifies the entwinement between
art and philosophy

Mystical Anarchism marks a significant development in the research project by


intensifying the entwinement between art and philosophy through my collaboration with
Simon Critchley. As detailed in Chapter Two, I had been reading Critchleys
philosophical writings. Through my involvement with the Event Research Group I had
the opportunity of meeting him in February 2009. He accepted my invitation as keynote

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speaker for a seminar Critchley on Ethics, Politics of Resistance in the Contemporary
World that I had organised with the group. 287 The aim of the seminar was to offer
further insight into Critchleys book, Infinitely Demanding, Ethics of Commitment,
Politics of Resistance (2007). 288 In this book Critchley considers the possibility of re-
inscribing new ways of thinking about the world, by looking to artistic and political
methods that remobilise subjective and political agency and overcome the diminishing
utopian impulse in thought imposed by the neo-liberal situation. Through this seminar I
sought to extend Critchleys enquiry to others and overcome the diminishing utopian
impulse in thought imposed by the neo-liberal situation I invited the philosopher Aislinn
O Donnell, who was at that time working at the NCAD (National College of Art and
Design) to respond to Critchleys keynote paper.

Figure 52: Declan Clarke, Critchley on Ethics, Politics of Resistance in the


Contemporary World, 2009
Figures 53 & 54: Shane Cullan, Critchley on Ethics, Politics of Resistance in the
Contemporary World, 2009

I also invited artists Declan Clarke and Shane Cullan to contribute to the seminar
because their work offered examples of how art and art practice might engender
political agency. Clarke spoke about his recent exhibition, Loneliness in West Berlin,
(2009) Goethe Institute Dublin. This exhibition centred around the experience of a
former member of the June 17th Movement, and as part of the exhibition Clarke had
transcribed an interview with this member in a pamphlet that was made available at the
exhibition (Fig. 52). Cullan spoke about his artistic/political gesture of presenting a
memorial for the civilians who had suffered the Second Massacre at Quana in 2006

287
The Event Research group was convened by Dr Tim Stott, and included Dr. Glen Loughran, Dr. Connel Vaughan,
John Buckley and Edia Connole. This peer-led research group ran from 2008-2010. Speaking Matters is the name for
a series of seminars organised by researchers at GradCAM.
288
Simon Critchley, Infinitely Demanding, Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance (New York: Verso, 2007).

134
(Fig. 53,54). Following this presentation he slowly relayed the thirty names of the
civilians, including children, who were killed in the massacre.

Although Critchley on Ethics was held in NCAD it was open to the wider community
and attracted students of philosophy and a wide network of friends who were not
necessarily associated with the disciplines of art or philosophy but were nevertheless
interested in the issues informing this public lecture based on the possibility of
subjective and political agency. 289 Presenting a philosophical enquiry into the
possibility of re-imagining the world in conjunction with specific artistic projects that
might present this possibility opened up the enquiry by extending the parameters of the
discursive space.

Although I do not approach the seminar Critchley on Ethics ... as an artwork, I do see
the development and planning of this seminar as one of many activities that constitute
my practice. This activity further entwines philosophy into my practice and
consequently informed the development of Mystical Anarchism. Firstly, my observation
that the conversation following Critchley on Ethics . was dominated by academics
prompted me to me to question the appropriateness of an academic framework to
engender a more inclusive conversation. This observation plays a key role in developing
the research project because it prompted me to develop Mystical Anarchism as an
alternate framework that might extend philosophical enquiry to others through more
experimental modes of address. Secondly, the opportunity to meet Critchley led to our
collaboration. This collaboration emerged out of a series of conversations following his
engagement with my practice and my engagement with his enquiry, specifically his
paper Mystical Anarchism (that was in a developmental stage). Mystical Anarchism
focuses Movement of the Free Spirit, an exemplary millenarian movement based in the
low countries of Europe during Medieval period. Instead of looking to contemporary
examples, as he had for Infinitely Demanding Critchley uses a historical lens to re-

289
The statement advertised on the GradCAM website demonstrates how the concerns of contemporary art were
entwined in this lecture: Simon Critchley on Ethics, Politics of Resistance in the Contemporary World:
At a time of widespread economic crisis and growing social instability, critical thought and practice can work to
address the political nihilism that results in an apparent poverty of alternatives. What figures, relationships, and
models of praxis still have relevance and possibility within our situation? Drawing on current attempts to rethink
convergences between cultural practices, political agency and philosophy around matters of concern to us all, and
motivated more broadly by an examination of correspondences between philosophy and culture, the Event Research
Group will stage an afternoon of presentations and discussion that takes as its point of departure philosopher Simon
Critchley's important contributions to contemporary problems concerning ethics and political resistance
http://www.gradcam.ie/speaking_matters/simon_critchley.php

135
engage with the past in order to propose the possibility of an alternate, more collective
model of community. I observed how my practice and Critcheys enquiry aligned. My
work sought to engage with liminality in a direct experiential way. Critcheys area of
enquiry, Marguerite Poretes handbook seemed to suggest this state. For example, the
intensification of experience that Porete describes in her handbook could be approached
as a liminal state because she claims this threshold state is transformative, in that it
eventually leads to deification. I also observed that the Movement of the Free Spirit
exemplified communitas. In his paper Mystical Anarchism Critchley observes the socio-
political implications of the transformation of the individual to the dividual and how
this informs the communist sensibility of the Movement of the Free Spirit, where all
conceptions of mine and thine vanish. 290 Through our conversations I realised how our
specific enquiries aligned, not only in relation to liminality, but also in the way that both
enquiries considered the potential of the collective to forge new states of being in the
world and consequently new ways of thinking about the world. These insights informed
our decision to merge the enquiry of the philosopher with that of the artist through the
development of the event Mystical Anarchism. (Fig. 55, 56, 57, 58)

Figure 55, 56, 57 & 58: Research/Working Notebooks

290
A transcript of the paper Mystical Anarchism is provided in the appendix of the thesis.

136
The film Mystical Anarchism also develops the entwinement between philosophy and
art by presenting an additional artistic form to engage with philosophical ideas. The
footage of this lecture captured by Thomas McGraw Lewis was originally intended for
archival purposes. Because the lecture was shot in near darkness all that can be seen is
Critchleys face (illuminated by his head torch) emerging out of the darkness (Fig.59).
From my perspective, the footage evoked the esoteric nature of the content of
Critchleys lecture while capturing a quality of otherness that the event sought to enact.
I felt it necessary to produce a film that could be publically screened. This film also
presented an opportunity to recommence the conversation between the group and the
philosopher that was curtailed by the rainfall in Glendalough furthering the entwinement
and extending the work through the collaborative event in Block T.

Figure 59: Mystical Anarchism (2011).


Still from 30 min. film.

Gatherings (Transitory Encounters) can also be approached as entwining philosophy


with art. By departing from a didactic formal mode of explicating liminality and
relaying ideas pertaining to this intensive experiential state, the three events in
Gatherings (Transitory Encounters) sought to implicate philosophical ideas associated
with the notion of liminality through enactment. Instead of using the didactic methods
that are used in an academic seminar, (i.e. presenting a papers, and using PowerPoint,
etc.) Gatherings (Transitory Encounters) sought to engage with liminality through more

137
performative methods. The process of psychic sleep that was deployed in Metaphysical
Longings inaugurated the first stage of the three stages that constitute Gatherings
(Transitory Encounters). Through techniques of guided visualisation associated with the
meditative practice of yoga nidra this first stage of the work sought to temporarily
disengage a preoccupation with the self and initiate a collective experience. The second
stage of this work, titled The Materialization of the Phantom Muse also uses a
performative method. Instead of speaking directly about the link between this
psychological state and liminality, Cussans suggested this experiential in-between state
by holding a virtual sance with the late feminist writer Charlotte Perkins-Gillman.291
Perkins-Gillmans short story The Yellow Wallpaper (1892) describes the misdiagnosis
of a woman suffering post-natal depression and the trauma that resulted from the rest
cure (requiring the patient to avoid intellectual or emotional stimulation). This semi-
autobiographical piece of fiction articulates the psychological trauma of confinement as
it manifests as a vision of a woman trapped behind wallpaper. The performance of the
sance literally enacted a threshold that linked the here and now with the ghost of
Perkins-Gillman through the interface of the computer that was projected onto the wall.
More performative methods of engaging with liminality were further developed through
VooDoo Wrays blues performance. The notion of a liminal state that is neither here nor
there, caught betwixt and between was suggested through the set that began with You
Got to Move a traditional negro song about death (as a departure from this world into
the next and/or escaping from the Southern United States) and ended with songs that
include Preachin Blues (Up Jumped The Devil), by Robert Johnson, Poor Black Mattie
by R.L. Burnside, and Black Widow by Townes Van Zandt (Fig. 60). 292 Johnson,
Burnside and Van Zandts lives can be interpreted as liminal. Turners notion of
betwixt and between is exemplified by the myth of Johnson, who is believed to have
sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads. Similarly, Burnside was convicted of murder
having killed a man at a dice game and Van Zandt, an alcoholic and a drug addict, had
no long-term memory due to insulin shock therapy he had received for bipolar disorder.

291
Dr. John Cussans research is predominantly focused on wayward imagination and mystical belief systems that
have been pathologised by normative psychology.
292
Turner, The Ritual Process, viii.

138
Figure 60: Voodoo Wray set list.

The third stage of Gatherings (Transitory Encounters) also suggests the subjective
experiential state of liminality in an extra-textual manner. Although Herzog does not
use the term liminal in his documentary The Great Ecstasy of the Woodcarver Steiner,
his documentary capturing the inner turmoil of Steiner during the 1975 Ski-flying
World Championship also articulates the liminal state as betwixt and between.
Throughout the competition the ski federation authorities continually extend the length
of the jump and although Steiner realises the dangers of this jump he has an unremitting
desire to perform this potentially life-threatening act. Herzogs documentary captures an
intensification of experience, the psychological state of a man in a state of suspension

139
caught between his confounding experience of fear and desire. This intensification of
experience that is disorientating and is classically described as being outside oneself
is evoked through the mesmerising slow-motion footage of Steiner literally suspended
in mid- air (Fig. 61). 293 Although Gatherings (Transitory Encounters), does not bring
philosophical enquiry and art practice together in an explicit manner, the performative
processes used in the three events sought to implicate philosophical ideas associated
with the notion of liminality through enactment.

Figure 61, The Great Ecstasy of the Woodcarver Steiner, 1975 (film still).

Like Gatherings (Transitory Encounters), Metaphysical Longings does not bring


philosophical enquiry and art practice together in an explicit manner. There is no
philosopher present in this enactment of this work, nor is there a philosophical message,
only a disembodied voice relaying a series of straightforward instructions. Although the
first enactment of Metaphysical Longings was more modest in scale than the seminar
Critchley on Ethics (in that only thirteen people participated, as opposed to over
eighty people attending the seminar) and less ambitious in scale than Mystical
Anarchism I maintain this artwork offers a more sophisticated, framework to engage
with philosophical notions of subjectivity. As argued in Chapter Two, although
Metaphysical Longings was enacted on a patchwork of blankets in a small disused flat,
it nevertheless offered a more direct way where a group might engage with the

293
Because intensive emotional states are disorientating they are classically described as being outside of oneself, in
that the persons experience seems other to their normal state of being. Brian Massumi, The Autonomy of Affect,
Cultural Critique (University of Minnesota Press), no. 31 (Autumn, 1995), 83-109.

140
existential question of being in a more experimental and ultimately a more expansive
manner. Metaphysical Longings offered a more direct way to engage and explore the
notion of being through the groups direct experience.

I propose event-based artworks can offer alternate and potentially more inclusive
framework to explore philosophical ideas. The conversations following these three
event-based works was more inclusive than the conversation that followed the seminar
Critchley on Ethics. I also propose that this entwinement can potentially offer new ways
of thinking. The intention motivating Gatherings (Transitory Encounters),
Metaphysical Longings and Mystical Anarchism was not to present knowledge and
relay philosophical ideas through the explication of theory but to extend enquiry to
others in a non-didactic manner through enactment. These works sought to offer an
alternate entry point to engage with philosophical ideas on subjectivity by engaging
with liminality in a more explorative, experiential way. The following discussion further
examine how an entwinement between art and philosophy is performed both explicitly,
and, more pertinently, implicitly by focusing on the process of staging used in the
event-based works to enact other spaces.

4.3 Enacting Other Spaces Staging and Mirroring the Tri-Partite Structure of
Ritual

This discussion reflects on the possibility of the event-based works to implicate


philosophical meaning on an experiential and symbolic level. Moving from an analysis
of the entwinement of art and philosophy, this discussion reflects on the process of
staging used throughout the research project. In theatre staging designates the use of
temporary backdrops to create alternate, imaginary realms. This discussion examines
how the process of staging developed through the research project and how I employed
this method to enact an experiential, symbolic realm that I define as an other space. By
reflecting on the development of the research project I outline how I sought to enact an
other space by mirroring the tripartite stage of ritual in the event-based works.

Gatherings, (Transitory Encounters), Mystical Anarchism and Metaphysical Longings


are defined as events and not performances, however, their staging ultimately involves

141
what the performance theorist Paul Thom observes as a performance setting a space
set apart from the space of everyday life and a performance occasion a period of
time structured for the purpose of that performance. 294 Staging designate key features
in the enactment of my event-based works that include: the choice of location, the
timing, the and the use of props, namely a 17 metre x 7 metre mat that is used
throughout the research project.

Gatherings, (Transitory Encounters), designates the first public enactment of the


research project. Although I consider the inaugural event (a public yoga nidra session)
of this work a failure, acknowledging and reflecting on this failure (in comparison to the
success of the first enactment of Metaphysical Longings) has informed the development
of the research project by affirming that staging is essential to the experiential and
symbolic reading of event-based artworks and crucial to enacting an other space.
Thoms assertion that a consideration of location and time are essential to the enactment
of performative event is substantiated when comparing the success of Metaphysical
Longings with the inaugural event of Gatherings, (Transitory Encounters).

Although spatial and temporal conditions might seem superficial, these are crucial to
establishing a performance setting and a performance occasion and inform how we
encounter the work. In the first enactment of Metaphysical Longings in Pallas Heights
the spatial and temporal conditions were highly considered, i.e. locating the event in a
derelict housing complex and timing it at dusk. These conditions informed the
experiential dimension of the work. As outlined in Chapter Two, the event was timed so
that the setting sun would bathe the domestic interior space with a peach glow when the
group awoke. The transformation of this room enhanced and seemed to mirror the
intimacy that was initiated by the shared experience of the group. The spatial and
temporal conditions also informed the conceptual dimension of the work. A condemned
building can be read as a liminal zone and dusk can be read as a liminal moment in
time. Experiencing a transitional experiential state in a liminal zone at dusk might
enhance the notion of impermanence. I hoped to further implicate the subjective state of
indeterminacy through my gesture of extending an invitation to experience the infinite
in this particular location at this particular time. 295 Staging Metaphysical Longings in

294
Davies, Philosophy of the Performing Arts, 174.
295
Fig. 21, Invitation to Metaphysical Longings

142
this particular location also intensified the experiential dimension of this work. The
requirement to travel to this demolition site at dusk, climb four flights of stairs in an
empty inhabited social housing complex and enter a room in an empty flat with twelve
other strangers bracketed off an intensive experience that differed from the quotidian
experience. I had timed the event Metaphysical Longings, so that when the group
woke the atmosphere of the room appeared transformed by the peach glow of the
setting sun.

Figure 62 & 63: The Lab, Dublin City Council, Foley Street, Dublin 1.

In the case of the inaugural event of Gatherings, (Transitory Encounters), the


performance occasion and the performance setting was not fully considered. This
lack of consideration undermined the crucial experiential dimension, which in turn led
to the failure of this work. The spatial conditions at the gallery space of the Lab on the
night of the inaugural event differed considerably from the domestic space of Pallas
Heights, detracting from the enactment of the event on multiple levels (Fig. 62, 63). On
a practical level, the large gallery space at the Lab was much colder that the cosy room
at Pallas that was heated by a Superser (Fig. 23). As noted in Chapter Two, in order to
practice yoga nidra effectively the mind and body must be totally relaxed. The
requirement to remain still over a period of time causes the temperature of the body to
drop. This distracts from this practice that seeks to transfer awareness from the logical
and rational to the perceptive. In Pallas Heights the audio could be clearly heard from
the cassette tape because the space was so small. However, the small cassette player
was inadequate in the large space of the Lab. Having to concentrate trying to hear
further distracted from the process of letting go. The spatial conditions can also be seen
informing the work on a symbolic level. Because the gallery space at the Lab was
considerably larger than Pallas Heights the small group who arrived for the inaugural

143
event lay down at a considerable remove from one another undermined the possibility
of instituting a collective experience and transforming the dynamic in the space.

The process of staging developed through the research project and for Mystical
Anarchism the location and timing of this event was highly considered (Fig. 64, 65, 66).
Glendalough, a national park situated approximately fifty miles outside of Dublins city
centre, designates the performance setting" and midnight designates the performance
occasion. This process of staging sought to engender an inter-play between the content
of Critchleys lecture with the context of the event. The intention of enacting Mystical
Anarchism in this significant place at this significant time was to intensify the
experiential dimension and inform the conceptual framework of this work. 296 The name
Glendalough is derived from the Irish Glenn dha Lough (the valley of the two lakes).
This site is geographically significant, being formed by a fault line in the earths crust.
Glendalough is also culturally significant, being an ancient monastic settlement
established around the following of St. Kevin, a hermit monk who had previously
resided on the banks of the upper lake. St. Kevins mendicant lifestyle mirrors that of
Poretes and the Movement of the Free Spirit. The intention of enacting the event in
Glendalough was to symbolically invoke the community in Critchleys lecture.

Figure 64 & 65: Research/Working Notebooks

296
To begin the lecture, Critchley welcomes the group to this significant place at this significant time. See DVD
that accompanies this thesis.

144
Figure 66: Mystical Anarchism (2009).

The liminal state is anthropologically conceived as a timeless state of being ... that lies
parallel to our normal state of being, or is perhaps superimposed on it, or somehow
coincides or coexists with it. 297 By enacting Mystical Anarchism at midnight I sought
to superimpose the artwork so that it might coincide or coexist with the dynamics of the
site. The dynamic of Glendalough radically changes at night. This national park is no
longer busy with tourists, hill walkers and families. The darkness obscures the amenities
and man-made structures such as signs and maps. At midnight the park seems to revert
back to a mystical site. I sought to gesture towards the element of secrecy associated
with Poretes esoteric text and the community of mystics by enacting the event in a
forest at midnight. Although I did not seek permission from the National Parks
Authority for a practical reason (namely because they would probably have refused my
request), the secrecy of the event might also be read as engendering an interplay
between the content of Critchleys lecture with the context of the event. 298 Midnight is a
significant time, often understood as a time of potential, a time when we might think
differently. Badious peer Jacques Rancire also observes the potential of night in his
essay The Nights of Labour. In this essay Rancire reflects on how the auto-didactic

297
Turnbull, Liminality, 80.
298
The decision to not ask permission from the state authorities was also practical decision. I anticipated they would
refuse my bringing one hundred people to the banks of the Upper Lake at midnight. This observation demonstrates
how art practice often necessitates the artist to operate in an anarchistic manner.

145
activities of the proletariat instrumentalised an alternate temporality carving out a space
where they could institute their own subjective agency. 299 By enacting Mystical
Anarchism at midnight I sought to initiate an alternate temporality, where the ideas of
the philosopher might be extended to the wider collective.

The collective gathering is crucial to all of the events in the research project. However,
in his analysis of the performance event Thom fails to register the method of assembly.
I propose that the way the group gathers together in my work also informs its
experiential dimension and the symbolic meaning. This method of assembly in Mystical
Anarchism mirrors the tri-partite structure of ritual. This process of staging was
developed through a process of reflecting back on the structure of Metaphysical
Longings. Although I did not plan to mirror the tri-partite structure of ritual in this work
the three phases pre-liminal, liminal and post-liminal, can be recognised in this event.
In ritual initiates are symbolically removed from their everyday experience. The
requirement of each individual to travel to a condemned building at dusk can be read as
marking the pre-liminal stage of the event. The collective act of lying together, the
intensification of experience through the process of yoga nidra and subsequent
transformation to the dynamic of the group can be aligned with the liminal stage and the
departure of the group from this space as a newly formed collective following this
process can be aligned with the post-liminal stage.

By mirroring the tri-partite structure that Van Gennep identifies in ritual, Mystical
Anarchism sought to enact another space where Critchleys philosophical enquiry
would converge in the enactment of the work. The method of assembly is initiated from
the outset, by the hand-delivered invitation to participate. Partaking in the invitation to
travel to an undisclosed location, departing from the familiar location of the National
Gallery in Ireland, in Dublins city centre where they began their journey can be aligned
with the pre-liminal stage. Their return to the city in the coach marks the post-liminal
stage.

Within ritual theory it has been recognised that a shared experience is crucial to
activating the liminal state. This sharing of experience is thematised by Turners term

299
This pedagogical process can also be registered in Irish history through the phenomenon of the hedge school, a
secret educational system that literally took place in the hedges during the late 16th /17th century in Ireland

146
communitas. 300 Although it might seem grandiose to extend Turners term communitas
to the gathering participating in Mystical Anarchism, the mirroring of ritual in this work
instituted a shared experience which is understood to enhance commonality. The
method of assembly affects how the work is encountered on an experiential level, as the
collective spirit intensifies the experience, enhancing the feeling of anticipation, the
feeling that something is bound to take place. Mystical Anarchism also operates on an
inter-subjective level amongst the group, who collectively share an intensive experience
of being brought by coach to an unknown location, being directed along a dirt track to
encounter a huge handmade mat laid out in a clearing in a forest, where they would
gather together to listen to Critchley relay his intimate lecture in darkness. By
performing philosophy through enactment, ideas on collectivity and utopian forms of
community were not only suggested through the enactment, but might also be felt as a
shared experience. This notion of inclusivity, universality and collectivity that Critchley
describes is literally performed through the method of assembly and the enactment of
the event that implicates all percipients within its realisation and enactment. 301 By
creating a space where a group could gathering together for a discrete period of time,
Mystical Anarchism sought to extend Critchleys philosophical ideas on the possibility
of utopian forms of community to others so that they might be engaged with these ideas
a more immediate and meaningful capacity.

300
During, A Theatre of Operations, 25.
301
This observation is developed from von Hantelmanns reading of Daniel Burens monumental 65 x 32-foot striped
canvas which was produced specifically to fill the centre space of the Guggenheims rotunda in 1971. This work was
dismantled before the opening as a result of pressure from other exhibiting artists who felt this work caused
obstruction to their work. For more see Von Hantelmann, The Rise of the Exhibition, 186.

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4.4 The Artwork as an Open-Process - Inviting Thought and Affective Thought

The first discussion in this chapter introduces the event and outlines how this artistic
form permits a reading of the artwork as an open-process. I outline how the event
extends the work from the jurisdiction of the artist because it necessitates others to
partake in its enactment and realisation. This discussion focuses on Metaphysical
Longings as an open process, considering the insights gained from my engagement with
inaesthetics and art theory while reflecting on how this work operates. By analysing
how this works invites a particular way of thinking I develop my provisional claim that
the thinking in art is bound with experience to assert that proposition that artistic
thought is essentially affective.

In the previous chapter I detail how Badiou formulates his understanding of the poem as
an open process that demands our engagement through Mallarm. 302 Badiou
identifies the unnameable quality in Mallarms poem as placing the demand on the
reader. In this way Badiou observes that the indeterminate quality that permeates the
poetry of Mallarm does not denote inadequacy, but ensures that the poem fulfils its
task to activate thought. I also detail how Verwoert extends this notion of the artistic
form as an open process to contemporary art. Verwoert identifies how the reductive
processes in conceptual artworks, namely Barrys conceptual propositions, provokes
each of us to conjure up our thoughts, as he explains, The idea is actualized through an
appeal to its recipients to realise it within their own thoughts. 303 I also observe how
Davies follows this logic in his analysis of the performance event by identifying how
these artistic forms are designated by their call to engage.

Davies analysis of the performance event is useful when reflecting on the research
project because it allows me to reflect on the potential of my event-based works to
invite thought. In his analysis Davies distinguishes how we encounter artistic forms
from forms that might also be associated with aesthetic contemplation, such as natural
phenomena, i.e. landscapes, mountains, etc. Davies maintains that we become interested
in performance events because they are enacted and realised with intention. He claims
that once we engage with the artistic form as something intentionally made, or the event

302
Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, 27, 29, 52, 63.
303
Verwoert, Impulse Concept Concept Impulse, 165-175.

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as something intentionally enacted, our interest becomes interrogative. Davies maintains
that the call activates thought by necessitating a distinctive regard to engage with the
artistic form in that it requires close attention to the details of its artistic vehicle.304
Davies observes how the expressive quality of the artwork communicates the higher
content of this work. 305 In this way the details inform how the artwork is received and
how the higher level content is articulated through lower level content. 306

Davies analysis is also useful to the enquiry because it affirms my provisional claim that
the thinking raised by art is bound with experience. Davies analysis reasserts Badious
inaesthetic reading of artistic thought as inseparable from the sensible by describing
how thought is determined by our encounter with the artistic form. 307 As Davies
observes, our encounter with the artistic form (be it object, proposition or event) has an
ephemeral quality. Like Badiou and Verwoert, Davies maintains this transient quality
does not undermine the artistic status of that thing. He sees this indeterminate quality
as its determining feature which furnishes the the higher level content to unfold in the
work by extending a call for the audience to engage. 308 Davies looks to Thoms
analysis of the performance event to distinguish how the attention solicited by this
artistic form is not passive but active. Thom describes the act of attending to the event
as playful beholding (a notion that aligns closely with Schillers play drive). 309 For
Thom, playful beholding involves the audience engagement with the actions performed
in the here and now and those recollected. In this way, such playful beholding attests to
how an audience might equally attend to what might not necessarily be presented to
them, such as comparing aspects of the performance with other performances or events
in their own lives. By identifying engagement as playful beholding Thom
distinguishes how the encounter activates thought and that this thought is perceptive.

Reflecting on the processes used in the enactment of Metaphysical Longings allows me


to explore how the thinking by art differs from a way of thinking associated with the
discipline of philosophy as it is academically practiced. The meditative process of

304
Davies, Philosophy of the Performing Arts, 14.
305
Davies draws on Keith Jarrets Kln Concert, January 24th 1975, noting how the sequence of sounds produced and
the richness of the timbre serve to communicate meaning. Davies, Philosophy of the Performing Arts, 135.
306
Davies, Philosophy of the Performing Arts, 142.
307
Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, 19.
308
As Davies notes, although our encounter with the artistic form may be of an ephemeral nature, the transient
quality does not affect the artistic status of that thing. Davies, Philosophy of the Performing Arts, 143.
309
Davies, Philosophy of the Performing Arts, 174.

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guided visualisation used in the enactment Metaphysical Longings informs how the
work is encountered and ultimately perceived. Like Barrys 1969 Project Class, the
objects in Metaphysical Longings can only be encounter through the imagination.
Barrys 1969 Project Class demonstrates how the thoughts that are potentially raised by
his works cannot be prescribed and are determined by the percipient. This emphasis on
the subject, or in my lexicon percipient, is asserted by Barry, who when asked about the
reception of his conceptual propositions maintains, what they do with them afterwards
is not in my control. 310 Barrys reflections articulate the unlikelihood of his
propositions to transfer a single discrete idea because they are unresolved. I approach
my artworks in a similar manner because they not institute an idea that I authorise but
instead seek to enact an other space where thought might unfold. Metaphysical
Longings emphasises the role of the percipient by removing the presence of the
philosopher from the enactment of the work. There is nothing in this work that
evidences the mastery of the philosopher or the mastery of the artist, because I also
participate in these works as a member of the group. 311 In addition, the audio track
offers no clear philosophical message. There is no didactic message, only a series of
instructions from the disembodied voice.. These aspects of Metaphysical Longings
necessitate the percipient to configure the meaning. In this way the thought that is
potentially engendered by Metaphysical Longings is determined by the artistic form and
dependant on the percipients encounter with this form. Metaphysical Longings operates
through its performativity not only through the processes used to enact these works
but, more significantly, by its very nature as an process in and of itself. In the four
iterations of Metaphysical Longings, the performance of philosophy is not explicit, but
performed in each event in an implicit manner. Perception and imagination are
foregrounded in these events which require the group to visualise particular images and
situations, demonstrating the possibility of approaching philosophical concerns relating
to the subject and our being in the world on an experiential and collective level.

The notion of the dividual and the potential of the collective that is raised on a
performative level in Mystical Anarchism is advanced further in Metaphysical Longings
through the form of meditation associated with yoga nidra. Each iteration of

310
Barry, Conceptual Radio.
311
The content of the audio is further developed in Metaphysical Longings V to further distance the artist as the
author of this work. Specific pre-recorded instructions that manage the group i.e. the instruction to step onto the mat,
remove shoes, find a space, lie down, etc. ensures that there is no requirement for the artist to speak.

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Metaphysical Longings uses the process of psychic sleep, a form of meditation
associated with yoga nidra. As noted, it is claimed that practicing yoga nidra induces a
greater sense of engagement and being with the world because it temporarily disengages
a preoccupation with the self through an intensification of experience. In order to
experience a threshold state that activates consciousness and heightens awareness it is
absolutely necessary to disengage the ego through a process of letting go. In each
enactment of Metaphysical Longings all percipients are bound together by trust through
this collective process. The process of guided visualisation used throughout
Metaphysical Longings necessitates the group to engage on a perceptive level. In this
way Metaphysical Longings might potentially enact an other space where more open,
less bounded ways of thinking may flourish.

I develop my provisional claim that the thinking raised by art is bound with experience
by proposing that the thinking potentially engendered by Metaphysical Longings is
essentially affective. Affect has also been theorised by Brian Massumi and Simon O
Sullivan through the philosophy of Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. O Sullivan
maintains that affect is a bloc of sensations {sic.} that are activated by the
subject/percipient. 312 As affect is subject to a range of bodily sensations, it ensures that
all faculties that become activated through the encounter with this work are accounted
for. For example, the experience of arriving to a particular location, the sensation of
lying together on a soft cashmere mat, the act of listening to instructions are as
important, if not more so, as the appearance of the work. This is crucial to a
comprehensive and considered reading of works like Metaphysical Longings which do
not operate on a visual level, but on a perceptive level. Because the term affect is not
only restricted to physiological capacities, such as sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch, and
audio it ensures that the higher senses that are implicated through the enactment of
this work are captured.

The difficulty to grasp affect on a conceptual level is theorised by Brian Massumi, who
argues that there is no cultural or theoretical vocabulary specific to affect. Simon O
Sullivan develops Massumis claim that affect is extra discursive, being outside

312
For more see Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy? Colombat, Deleuze and the Three Powers, 207-223 O'
Sullivan, The Aesthetics of Affect, 125-36.

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discourse, and extra-textual because it does not produce knowledge. 313 Massumi
looks to Deleuze and Guattari and draws on the philosophy of Baruch Spinoza, who
claims an affect or passion of the mind is a confused idea and who claims thought
determined by affect differs from thought associated with logic and reason. 314 As
outlined in Chapter Two the thinking that Metaphysical Longings invites radically
differs from rational forms of thought associated with analytical enquiry. I propose that
the thinking that Metaphysical Longings potentially invites is affective because it is not
bound with the strictures of reason but instead adheres to the logic of experience,
perception and the imagination. As outlined, Metaphysical Longings seeks to engage
with liminality in a more direct, experiential level to potentially attain a greater
awareness of being and collectivity. The intentions that motivate the enactment of
Metaphysical Longings are not disclosed to the group before the session, nor are they
divulged when the session is complete. This decision not to specify the intentions is to
ensure that the meaning of the work remains open. By resisting specification
Metaphysical Longings allows more perceptive and imaginative forms of thought to
unfold. This is further asserted in the enactment of this work that has no clear
philosophical message but seeks to engage through experience. The inherent complexity
surrounding affect, being bound with subjective (and sometimes intensive) experiential
states captures nuances of the thought that Metaphysical Longings potentially invites.

4.5 Summary

In presenting the development of the research project as it is performed through three


event-based works, this chapter discloses how the enquiry is carried out through a post-
conceptual practice. The chapter outlines how philosophy is further entwined in my
practice through the development of the research project. This chapter also presents the
value of the event for the research project. I outline how I develop this artistic form to
advance the working definition of the research project by reflecting on the potential of
the artworks to enact an other space.

This chapter reveals that the process of reflection is integral to my practice, the

313
Ibid.
314
Baruch Spinoza, Ethics, trans. W.H. White and A. H. Stirling (London: Wordsworth Classics, 2001), 158.

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development of the research project and the performance of the enquiry. As noted in
Chapter Two, my decision to use the event as the framework to explore how thought is
raised by art was not a concerted decision but emerged through my practice. The
working definition for the research project to enact an other space to activate thought
also developed through the research process. This chapter reveals that the process of
staging and the mirroring of the tri-partite structure of ritual in the latter part of the
research project was not conceived in a definitive manner but rather emerged in a pre-
verbal, intuitive level through the process of making and presenting work.

This chapter develops from Chapter Two by bringing the insights gained from my
engagement with inaesthetics and art theory to bear when reflecting on the research
project as the development and enactment of event-based works. It is through the
process of developing and enacting event-based works that I seek to explore the
philosophical character of art. I undertake this explorative enquiry by reflecting on the
entwinement between art and philosophy as it is performed by the research project, by
analysing how philosophical ideas might be implicated through the research project (by
registering the explicit and implicit presence of philosophy) and by examining the
potential of the artworks that configure the research project to invite thought. It is
through the process of developing and enacting event-based works that key insights
emerged, these include my realisation of the process of staging, my formulating the
term percipient and my proposition that the condition of thought in art is essentially
affective.

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CONCLUSION

It is only when there is distance from the work that the research project can be
thoroughly analysed. The process of critical and retrospective reflection reveals that
many of the key decisions that inform the development of the research project were not
made at the onset of the formal enquiry but emerged through my immersion in my art
practice. My decision to use the event as the primary framework and the working
definition that these events might enact other spaces was not pre-planned, but rather
resulted from the changes that occurred in my practice. Similarly the process of staging
and the mirroring of the tri-partite structure of ritual that was used in each work to enact
other spaces were not formulated as a methodology in a definitive manner but rather
developed in a pre-verbal, intuitive level through the process of developing, making
enacting and critical reflecting on actual art works.

Five key insights emerged by addressing the questions driving the enquiry which asked:
What is the relationship between art and philosophy in my post-conceptual practice?
How might my artworks raise philosophical ideas and thought? What is the nature of
this thought? As these insights are interwoven within the thesis it is important to
identify each insight and distinguish how it emerged through the research project. By
detailing how each insight contributes to the discursive space of contemporary art and
contemporary aesthetics. This Conclusion to the thesis aims to present the value of
conducting an enquiry into contemporary art through a post-conceptual practice.

Examining the relationship between art and philosophy in my practice led to the first
insight, my identifying an entwinement between art and philosophy in my practice. In
the Introduction to the thesis attention is drawn to the performative contradiction of
this enquiry that uses philosophy in a conventional manner to analyse the relationship
between art and philosophy in my post-conceptual practice. Identifying this
performative contradiction affirms that my use of philosophy in my practice is
particular. The term entwinement articulates the particularity of the engagement

154
between the disciplines in my post-conceptual practice that I identify as symbiotic. The
reference to Badious knot suggests the enquirys engagement with inaesthetics. 315

The discussion in Chapter Two detailed how I identify the entwinement between art and
philosophy in my practice by reflecting on the drawings, The Clear Apprehension and
Mapping Nihilion. My analysis of how these works emerged out of my working through
particular existentialist philosophical ideas presents a radically different form of
engagement between art and philosophy than the linear form designated by aesthetics.
As explained in this analysis, philosophy is not deployed to interpret these works nor do
these works seek to illustrate philosophical ideas. Instead artistic processes and
philosophical enquiry become entwined through my working through ideas of
impermanence and indeterminacy. Identifying the entwinement is crucial because it
informed my observation that philosophical ideas might be further explored through the
process of art making and revealed a particular way of thinking that unfolded through
this process. This was tested in the event Metaphysical Longings in its aim to expand
the philosophical questions of being to others in an extra-textual, non-didactic manner
through their direct participation in the process of enacting work. This process of
analysing the entwinement of art and philosophy in this event-based work provided an
entry point to reflect on the capacity of an artwork to implicate philosophical ideas. This
methodology of reflecting on the entwinement to explore how philosophical ideas are
implicated was developed and used to analyse the event-based works that configure the
research project.

Analysing how philosophical ideas are implicated in my event-based works leads to the
second insight, that art invites thought. As outlined in Chapter Three, I use the term
invite to acknowledge that an artwork has the potential to activate thought, but that such
thought might not necessarily be raised, as it is essentially determined on the subject
within the dynamic. This insight that art invites thought is informed by my hesitancy to
co-opt Badious term demand (that he uses when reflecting on Mallarm) which I
read as too definitive. Instead, by considering more open-ended terms, such as the
appeal that Verwoert observes in Barrys conceptual propositions and the romantic
fragment and the call that Davies observes in the performance event I formulate a

315
Alain Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, 3.

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way of articulating the intention of the artwork to engage and engender thought while
avoiding making a definitive claim that all artworks successfully activate thought. The
value of this insight for a more general understanding of contemporary art is that it
engages with Fosters notion of the birth of the viewer by asserting that such thought is
contingent on the subject within the encounter.

My provisional claim that the thinking raised by art is bound with experience leads to
the third insight, that artistic thought is essentially affective. This insight is most
significant to the enquiry because it addresses the challenging question raised in the
enquiry which asked, what is the nature of artistic thought? The term affect articulates a
way of thinking that is particular to art. As outlined in Chapter Three, Badiou
distinguishes artistic thought from the thinking raised by philosophy by registering it as
inseparable from the sensible and unthinkable. He confirms this by arguing this
form of thought is irreducible to philosophy, because he sees philosophy as devoted
to the invention of concepts alone. 316 As outlined in Chapter Two, I observed that my
practice generated a particular way of thinking that was bound with experience. As
noted, I observed how my thinking was bound up with the process of making work, a
process of action and contemplation and how the transcription of philosophical
statements coupled with the process of rendering stars allowed me to further
contemplate and explore notions of being and existence. However, as detailed these
thoughts were not governed by reason nor are my thought processes systematic. Instead
the thinking that unfolds from my practice is perceptive and imaginative.

I also observed a link between thought and experience in the encounter with artworks,
and how the artistic form informed the way one might think. Although my drawings
directly reference philosophical ideas, they do not present ideas that are fully resolved
because the strange juxtaposition created by the drawing disrupts such a reading.
However because these ideas are presented in the context of a drawing and because they
have not been developed through a system of logical analysis they invariably encourage
a different form of engagement. This way of thinking that these drawings invite cannot
be prescribed because it is dependant on and determined by the percipient and their
encounter with the sensible dimension of the artistic form.

316
Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, 9-19.

156
This observation that thought is bound with experience and that it is dependant on and
determined by the artistic form is developed in Chapter Four by analysing of the process
of staging and the mirroring of the tri-partite structure of ritual that was used to enact
other spaces on an experiential level. As noted, within ritual theory it has been
recognised that a shared and intensive experience is essential to activating the liminal
stage in ritual. As detailed, I sought to enhance the experiential dimension of Mystical
Anarchism by staging this work at midnight in a secret location and sought to initiate a
shared and intensive experience through the mode of assembly. I also sought to initiate
a shared and intensive experience through collective meditation in Metaphysical
Longings. As outlined in Chapter Four, the inherent complexity surrounding affect,
being bound with subjective, and sometimes, intensive experiential states, is valuable
when reflecting on these works because it captures the nuances of thought that these
works might invite.

By defining artistic thought as affective reaffirms that the thinking that unfolds through
the encounter with art is not bound to the strictures of reason or logic. As detailed in
Chapter Four, Massumi asserts this point by claiming that affect is extra discursive,
being outside discourse, and extra-textual because it does not produce knowledge. 317
The difficulty to grasp affect on a conceptual level is theorised by Massumi, who claims
that there is no cultural or theoretical vocabulary specific to affect. In response to
Massumi I argue that contemporary art provides a unique vocabulary to engage with
affect by observing how the artworks in this research project operate on an affective
level. As affect is subject to a range of bodily sensations, it ensures that all senses,
including the higher sense of perception that is activated through the encounter with the
event-based works, are accounted for. By registering that artistic thought is essentially
affective articulates that the thinking raised by art is bound up with the artistic form, the
encounter, the percipient, and their experience.

The fourth insight, the formulation of the term percipient, developed from my
awareness that vision is not necessarily the predominant way that we encounter
contemporary art. Indentifying that perception is the predominant way that we

317
Brian Massumi, The Autonomy of Affect, Cultural Critique (University of Minnesota Press), no. 31 (Autumn,
1995), 83-109. Massumi observes the difficulty to grasp affect on a conceptual level and claims that there is no
cultural or theoretical vocabulary specific to affect. The research project provides a context to explore how
contemporary art could provide a vocabulary specific to affect through event-based works.

157
encounter all forms of contemporary art (from my analysis of art theory detailed in
Chapters One and Three and from my reflecting on my own work) informed my
developing the term percipient as a more comprehensive and precise alternative to the
term viewer. Although the term percipient does not appear until in the fourth and final
chapter, the necessity for a new term to define the subject of contemporary art is raised
in the first chapter of the thesis. 318 My analysis of art theory detailed in Chapter One
reveals how the radical transformations in artistic practice, (through minimal,
conceptual and post-conceptual practices) necessitated different forms of engagement
than just vision alone. As Foster observes, the minimalists concern with the subjects
experience that instigated a radical shift form the modernist reading of art as an
idealised form disrupted the visual bias that had been upheld by formal aesthetics.
Danto also reflects on developments in art practice and how works like, Warhols Brillo
Boxes and Pipers Funk Lesson could no longer be thematised by traditional aesthetic
categories that focused on the visual aspect of the artwork. In the case of Funk Lesson
Danto observes how the overarching concern with equality and inclusion is brought to
bear through the work itself and observes how the meaning of the work is essential.

If meaning is essential how might we engage with this fundamental aspect of


contemporary art? Although the enquiry does not explicitly pose this question the
insight that artistic thought is essentially affective asserts perception as the primary
mode of engagement. Perception is introduced in Chapter One through Fosters analysis
of minimalism, a moment that he defines as the crux of contemporary art. As outlined,
Foster maintains that the emphasis on experience in minimalism relocated the act of
thinking from the privileged domain of philosophy to the domain of the subject and
their encounter with the work. As thought and experience come into play in this
encounter he argues that minimalism operates on a perceptive level. My understanding
that contemporary art in all its multifarious forms is ultimately perceived, is also guided
by Osbornes reading of contemporary art as the reflective mediation of concept and
affect. Through this reading contemporary art cannot be engaged with on a purely
analytical level because it acknowledges the experiential within the conceptual
framework. This observation that the sensible dimension of the artistic form is essential
to the reading of the work and that this necessitates more perceptive forms of

318
It is remarkable that Morris also retained the term viewer in his writings on art when these texts dealt primarily
with the external relations of art and the physical nature of the encounter with art.

158
engagement is developed in Chapter Three through Verwoert and Heisers revisionist
reading of conceptualism. As detailed, Heisers observation of an intellectual-emotional
combination in key conceptual artworks that restrict them from operating on a purely
cognitive level as strict conceptualists would assert. Verwoert develops this insight by
observing an emotional quality in Barrys conceptual propositions. Lamarques poetic
treatment of conceptualism also asserts perception as the overarching mode to engage
with the conceptual proposition because it suggests meaning rather than presenting a
formulated idea. Similarly, Badiou also acknowledges perception in his reading of the
poem as an operation that activates the sensory perception of a regime of
thought. 319 All of the artworks referenced in Chapters One and Three differ
significantly in their form, I observe that they ultimately share the same mode of
engagement. For example, the minimalist object differs significantly from the
dematerialised conceptual proposition, as does the participatory art events that
incorporate dance and music from the poem. However as detailed in Chapters One and
Three the meaning of these diverse artistic forms are ultimately engaged with through
perception.

When compiling the accounts of Gatherings (Transitory Encounters), Mystical


Anarchism and Metaphysical Longings for the final chapter of the thesis it became clear
that the term viewer was not appropriate to describe the people gathered together for
each event. It seemed inappropriate to define those present at Mystical Anarchism as
viewers when detailing that the first iteration of this event, was for the most part in near
darkness. Furthermore, in its form as a midnight lecture Mystical Anarchism was
primarily engaged with on an aural level. However, as detailed in the account, there
were many aspects to this work, for example the act of meeting in Dublins city centre
and travelling on a coach with others to an undisclosed location, the arrival at a dark
forest and the requirement to follow a dirt track to a large mat that was laid out under a
canopy of trees. It is believed that darkness can enhance other senses, for example the
sounds in the forest became more amplified at night and the scent of the vegetation can
become more intensive. Darkness also enhances the sense of touch, and as people try to
negotiate their way in the dark, they inevitably move closer to one another. These

319
Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, 19.

159
crucial aspects do not necessitate sight, but instead necessitate more perceptive forms of
engagement. The inappropriateness of the term viewer becomes more apparent when
noting that those present at each event are explicitly instructed to close their eyes.

Although photographic documentation of the artwork is provided in the thesis, they do


not provide an adequate framework to fully engage with the complexity of these works.
This is because the emphasis of my events is not on their appearance but on the way that
they are experienced and perceived. 320 The term percipient acknowledges the
perceptive faculties such as feeling, and imagination that are mobilised through the
artworks as events i.e. an awareness of physicality, the realisation of the passage of
time, the transformation to the dynamic between individuals or within a group, a feeling
of commonality etc. and provides a more appropriate term to describe those present at
each event. The term percipient also articulates how the artworks depend on others to
achieve the overarching aim to enact other spaces on an experiential and symbolic
level. As argued in my analysis, in order for a work to exist it must be realised and
perceived.

The term percipient ensures that the conceptual aspect of contemporary art and its
experiential dimension is acknowledged. Moving from my specific enquiry to a more
general reading of contemporary art, I maintain that the term percipient provides a more
apposite term to define the subject of contemporary art. Furthermore, I see the term
viewer as upholding a modernist reading of art as an object to be beheld by the viewers
gaze. The term percipient overcomes this issue by ensuring that all forms of
engagement initiated by the multifarious range of artistic forms are accounted for. In
this way, the percipient provides a more comprehensive term to engage with
contemporary art because it articulates the overarching way we engage with
contemporary art in all of its multiple forms, be it an minimalist object, a conceptual
proposition, a temporary event-based work or a poem.

The fifth insight, my claim that inaesthetics is an expansion of, rather than a departure
from aesthetics has not featured in the thesis up until this point, mainly because it does

320
The photographic documentation is provided in the thesis to illustrate how these works were staged and to provide
an archive of the iterations of the artwork as they developed. The photographic documentation of Metaphysical
Longings II and Metaphysical Longings IV (Fig. 43, 44) were re-staged to avoid disrupting the enactment of this
work. Similarly the photographs archiving my research/working notebooks are provided to enhance the reflective
process by presenting the development of the research project.

160
not directly address the three questions driving the enquiry. However, this insight
ultimately emerges from undertaking this enquiry, and is significant to the enquiry
because it opens up how we might approach aesthetics for contemporary art. Although
my reading of inaesthetics as expanding aesthetics differs from Badiou, who maintains
it is against aesthetics, I propose inaesthetics opens up aesthetics for contemporary art.
As detailed in Chapter One, Osborne, Foster and Danto, acknowledge the necessity for
a new aesthetic configuration for contemporary art by observing how aesthetics lacked
the critical resources to engage with developments in art practice. These readings also
demonstrate how the lineage of contemporary art is bound up with the question of
aesthetics. I maintain this bind further necessitates the configuration of a new aesthetics
for contemporary art. Although Osborne claims that the turn to European philosophical
tradition has failed to achieve a convincing theoretical purchase on contemporary art,
I argue that inaesthetics achieves a theoretical purchase in the way that it engages
with the complicated relation between art and aesthetics that underlines contemporary
art. 321 Although Osborne takes issue with Badiou (claiming that he is a neo-classicist), I
argue that inaesthetics contributes to aesthetic discourse by troubling the interpretative
role of philosophy, which in turn re-asserts the possibility that we can think through
art. 322

We might see inaesthetics as developing from Dantos thesis that raises the inadequacy
of aesthetics for contemporary art by asserting the possibility that we can think through
art. Although Danto dismisses aesthetics as a viable enquiry for artistic practice, it is
clear that expanding aesthetics is within his remit, when he states, I feel that expanding
this range will itself be a philosophical project. But it falls outside of the range of
defining art Although Danto does not undertake this task, his End of Art thesis
nevertheless highlights the requirement for a new schema that redefines the relationship
between art and philosophy. Although Badiou makes no reference to Danto, I approach
inaesthetics as fulfilling Dantos demand to expand the range of aesthetics for

321
Osborne, "Art Beyond Aesthetics, 9.
322
Although Osborne is critical of Badious overarching philosophical system of thought, his reading of
contemporary art also acknowledges an alternative engagement between art and philosophy that is designated by the
general reading of aesthetics. Osborne maintains that Badious articulation of a (re)turn to philosophy in Being and
Event presents a neo-classical interpretation of philosophy, citing Adornos sense of neo-classicism as a historical
regression to means and forms that no longer have any social objectivism, however formally objectivist they may
appear. Peter Osborne, Neo-classic: Alain Badious Being and Event, Radical Philosophy 142 (March/April
2007): 19-30. For a counter position on this criticism see, Hollis Phelps, Between Rupture and Repetition:
Intervention and Evental Recurrence in the Thought of Alain Badiou , Parrhesia, no 5 (2008): 60-72.

161
contemporary art by proposing a fourth schema that re-orientates the role of philosophy
in respect to art. 323 As detailed in Chapter Three, by undermining the interpretative role
of philosophy, inaesthetics re-orientates the role of philosophy in respect to art and
configures a new schema that sustains a productive rather than a contentious bind with
contemporary art because it advances the primacy of art for thought.

Although Badious epigraph prefacing the Handbook of Inaesthetics presents


inaesthetics as against aesthetics I see it as unavoidably situated within the discursive
field of contemporary aesthetics. This argument has also been advanced by Jacques
Rancire. He claims, Even as it tries to ward off aesthetics perhaps inaesthetics thereby
enters into a new dialogue with it. Although Rancire is critical of inaesthetics, he
nevertheless argues that, inaesthetics puts aesthetics back into play, if not into
question, the operations through which it sought to challenge the logic of the aesthetic
regime of the arts. 324 I argue that inaesthetics ultimately presents a new aesthetic
configuration by challenging the general understanding of aesthetics as the
philosophical interpretation of art. As outlined in the brief prcis in Chapter One,
aesthetics is not a rigidly defined discipline, but one that is continually evolving. As
noted, Perniola observes that interpretations of aesthetics emerged, and continue to
emerge, through a series of ongoing ruptures within previous aesthetic categories. 325 He
notes that these ruptures do not necessarily close down aesthetic enquiry but ultimately
reactivate and expand our engagement with the discourse on a critical level. 326 By
rupturing the interpretative role of philosophy in the general conception of aesthetics, I
approach inaesthetics as reactivating a critical engagement with aesthetics and
ultimately expanding the discourse.

An expansion of discourse is not only achieved by a future trajectory of conjecture,


discourse can also be expanded by a retroactive reflection on past configurations and

323
Although Dantos claim for the unequivocal separation of art and philosophy is ostensibly in contrast to Badious
inaesthetics (as an amalgam of these disciplines), both philosophers are profoundly sceptical of the interpretative role
of philosophy in aesthetics. Danto, The End of Art, 131 -134.
324
Jacques Rancire, Aesthetics, Inaesthetcis, Anti-Aesthetics, in Think Again: Alain Badiou and the Future of
Philosophy, ed. Peter Hallward, 218-232 (London, New York: Continuum, 2004), 231.
Rancires criticism of inaesthetics as a return to modernity and a desire to affirm the specificity of art is levelled in
the chapter Alain Badious Inaesthetics, in Aesthetics and its Discontents, (2009), (first published Malaise dans
lEsthetique, 2004).
325
Mario Perniola, Cultural Turns in Aesthetics and Anti-Aesthetics, Filozofski Vestnik XXVIII, no. 2, (2007): 39-
51.
326
Perniolla, Cultural Turns in Aesthetics and Anti-Aesthetics, 39.

162
interpretations. This process is exemplified by Fosters anti-aesthetic practice that
informs his reading of contemporary art. Foster proposes anti-aesthetics revises the
eclipsed space of aesthetic enquiry in the way that it responds to the closure to more
critical experimental forms of art practice in the mid 1980s, (see footnote 35) Badiou
similarly formulates inaesthetics in response to a similar closure to more critical
experimental forms of art practice that he identifies in the mid 1990s.327 However, by
reasserting the underlying principles of philosophical aesthetics that inform
Romanticism, such as the formation of the subject, our being in the world and world
making in general, I maintain inaesthetics also revises the eclipsed space of aesthetic
enquiry so that it can re-engage with contemporary art. Although Badiou configures
inaesthetics as an alternate to Romanticism because it de-sutures truth from art (to
ensure that truth is no longer sutured to only one of its conditions) it nevertheless
asserts a Romantic conception of thought being immanent to art. Inaesthetics also
reasserts sensuous forms of knowledge that Romanticism espoused as demonstrated by
Badious reading of Mallarmes poems as a thought inseparable from the sensible.328
By rearticulating key principals associated with philosophical aesthetics through a new
schema, inaesthetics does not perform a complete departure from aesthetics, it expands
aesthetics for contemporary art.

I maintain that inaesthetics has the critical resources to engage with the condition of
thought in contemporary art that previous forms of aesthetics lacked. 329 My use of
inaesthetics as a theoretical guide to explore the specificty of artistic thought that my
event-based works could invite, reveals its value to the artist/researcher. As noted
previously, inaesthetics enables me to identify and reflect on the entwinement of art and
philosophy in my post-conceptual practice and in the event-based works that configure
the research project. In this way inaesthetics provides a guide to engage with the
specific form of thought that my works invite and informs the key insight that emerges
out of this enquiry, that artistic thought is essentially affective .

As detailed in Chapter Three, although Badiou claims inaesthetics is necessary for


contemporary art, he makes no reference to any forms of contemporary art practice to

327
Badiou, The Handbook of Inaesthetics, 8.
328
Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, 19.
329
Osborne, "Art Beyond Aesthetics, 9.

163
support his thesis but focuses draws on literary configurations to disclose how
inaesthetics reveals the operation of the artwork as a specific form of thought. 330 Just as
Badious use of literary configurations is informed by his personal and direct
engagement with the literary form, being a novelist, playwright and a philosopher, my
personal and direct engagement with contemporary art practice informs this enquiry.
Although Badiou claims inaesthetics as necessary for contemporary art he offers no
examples from contemporary art practice to assert his claims. This lacuna in his thesis
reveals the value of my enquiry into contemporary art because it is centred around
actual art works that I develop and enact. Through inaesthetics Badiou reflects on a
particular engagement between philosophy and art from the vantage point of the
philosopher. Through this enquiry I reflect on the particular engagement between art
and philosophy that is performed through a post-conceptual art practice. This
distinguishes the reflective aspect of this enquiry as one pursued from the perspective of
the artist. 331

The value of an enquiry through practice is affirmed by the configuration of new


knowledge through the curatorial project Romantic Conceptualism. Through a
curatorial practice and the framework of the exhibition Heiser and Verwoert formulate a
new reading of conceptualism as romantic. Similarly, the insights yielded from this
enquiry affirm that an enquiry through art practice can produce new knowledge that
contributes to contemporary art discourse and contemporary aesthetics. Situating an
enquiry into the philosophical character of contemporary art in a post-conceptual art
practice provides a context to reflect on the relationship between contemporary art and
philosophy and more rigorously examine the particular form of engagement between
these disciplines as they are played out through art practice. Had this enquiry been
carried out through theory alone I might not have observed that the thinking raised by
art is bound with experience or conceived the artwork as inviting thought and that such

330
As noted, Badiou looks mainly to literary configurations to disclose the possibility of artistic thought. He also
looks at other artistic forms in the Handbook, which include theatre, dance and cinema, albeit to a lesser extent.
Osborne also argues that there is a discrepancy in Badious analysis by observing that Badiou references essentially
modernist art forms to discuss contemporary art, an observation he uses to support his claim that Badiou is essentially
a neo-classicist. Jacques Rancire follows a similar trajectory in his criticism. He dedicates a chapter, Alain Badiou's
Inaesthetic, The Torsions of Modernism, in Aesthetics and Its Discontents, 63-88 (UK, USA: Polity Press, 2009)
(first published in French as Malaise dans lEsthetique, 2004) critiquing inaesthetics as a return to modernity by its
desire to categorise and affirm the specificity of art. While accepting these arguments, I see the value of inaesthetics
to the enquiry because this schema provides an aesthetic framework to support a rigorous exploration into the
condition of thought in art.
331
Riera, Alain Badiou, Philosophy and its Conditions, 80.

164
thought is affective. Similarly, the term percipient that I use in the analysis of the
research project might not have emerged without my having to reflect on the event-
based works. I also maintain that my engagement with inaesthetics from the side of art
practice instead of theory alone offered a new perspective that informed my re-
interpreting inaesthetics as an expansion of aesthetics because I could apply this
reconfigured aesthetic framework to engage with the conceptual and experiential
aspects of my work.

My struggle with writing this thesis, of trying to adhere to a systematic form of


argumentation and theory building demonstrates explicitly how thinking through
practice differs radically from the thinking required to explicate clearly the nuances and
development of a research project. However, in undertaking this research project I have
come to realise the requirement to capture these insights that are raised through practice
to extend and develop our general understanding of contemporary art. Although I note
that the lineage of contemporary art is informed by the developments in art practice, it is
necessary to acknowledge how specific readings of these practices also play a crucial
role in extending the horizon of contemporary art. This is demonstrated clearly in the
thesis through Osborne, Foster and Dantos readings of contemporary art and Verwoert
and Heisers revisionist reading of conceptualism. Although this conventional method
of exposition seems at odds with my practice, it provides a framework to present how
such an enquiry through practice reveals a particular way of engaging with
philosophical ideas and a particular way of thinking from the perspective of the artist. In
this way the thesis reveals the more systematic process of critical reflection, analysis
and evaluation that I use in the later stages of the enquiry. I hope to have presented how
the diverse processes that configure the post-conceptual practice and accordingly the
research project informs a more robust if not at the very least an alternative form of
enquiry. I also hope to have demonstrated my endeavour to maintain a candid and
honest reading of my practice through specific artworks so that this enquiry fulfils its
task of contributing to the discourse on contemporary art and the development of
contemporary aesthetics.

165
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176
LIST OF PUBLICATIONS

Emoe, Clodagh, Performing Philosophy in a Non-Philosophical Way.


In Experimental Aesthetics. Edited by Henk Slager. The Netherlands: Metroplis
M, 2014.

Emoe, Clodagh, Mystical Anarchism. In Sleepwalkers: Production as Process. Edited


by Logan Sisley. Dublin: Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery, 2014.

Emoe, Clodagh, Reconsidering the Avant-Garde Through Ritual. In Undisciplined


Disciplines. Edited by Noel Fitzpatrick and Tim Stott, Dublin: DIT, In/Print,
Issue 1, February 2012. http://arrow.dit.ie/jouinprintiss/1

Emoe, Clodagh, Doing Research. In Writings from the Finnish Academy of Fine
Arts/documenta XIII, 2012. Edited by Jan Kaila and Henk Slager, Finnish
Academy of Art, 2013

Giblan, Tessa. Forms of Imagining. Dublin: Project Arts Centre, 2014

Harmon, Kitty. Cartography, Artists + Maps, USA: Princeton Architectural Press,


2009.

Long, Declan. Sleep Through the Rest of my Days. In Come Together, Dublin.
Douglas Hyde Gallery, June 2007

Long, Declan, Metaphysical Longings, Dublin: Pallas Contemporary Projects,


September 2007.

Quirs, Kantuta and Aliocha Imhoff, Goesthtique, France: Parc Saint Leger, Centre
DArt Contemporarie, 2014, 18-19.

177
APPENDICES

178
APPENDIX I: UN COUP DE DS, STPHANE MALLARM

UN COUP DE DS

JAMAIS

QUAND BIEN MME LANC


DANS DES
CIRCONSTANCES TERNELLE
S

DU FOND D'UN NAUFRAGE

Soit
que
l'Abme blanchi tale furieux
sous une inclinaison planche
dsesprment d'aile
la
sienne par avance
retombe d'un mal dresser le
vol
et couvrant les
jaillissements
coupant au ras les bonds
trs
l'intrieur rsume l'ombre
enfouie dans la profondeur par cette voile alternative

jusqu'adapter sa bante
profondeur entant que la coque
d'un btiment
pench
de l'un ou l'autre bord

179
LE MATRE hors d'anciens
calculs o la manoeuvre avec l'ge
oublie surgi jadis il
empoignait la barre infrant de cette configuration ses
pieds de lhorizon
unanime que
se prpare s'agite et
mle au poing qui
l'treindrait comme on menace un destin et les vents
l'unique Nombre qui ne peut pas tre un
autre Esprit
pour le
jeter
dans la
tempte
en reployer la division et passer
fier hsite cadavre par le
bras cart du secret qu'il dtient pluttque
de jouer en
maniaque chenu la partie au nom des
flots un envahit le
chef coule en barbe
soumise naufrage cela direct de
l'homme sans
nef n'importe
o vaine

ancestralement n'ouvrir pas la


main crispe
par del l'inutile tte legs en la
disparition quelqu'un
ambigu l'ultrieur
dmon immmorial ayant de contres
nulles induit le vieillard
avec la
probabilit celui
son ombre purile caresse
lave assouplie par la vague et
soustraite aux durs os perdus entre les ais
n
d'un bat la m er par l'aeul
unetentant ou l'
chance oiseuse Fianailles
dont le voile d'illusion rejailli leur hantise ainsi que le fantme d'un
geste chancellera s'affalera
folie
N'ABOLI
RA

180
COMME SI
Une insinuation simple
au silence enroule avec
ironie
ou
le
mystre
prcipit
hurl
dans quelque proche tourbillon d'hilarit et
d'horreur
voltige autour du
gouffre
sans le
joncher
ni fuir

et en berce le vierge indice

COMME SI

plume solitaire perdue


sauf que la rencontre ou
l'effleure une toque de
minuit
et
immobilise au
velours chiffonn par un esclaffement sonore
cette blancheur
rigide
drisoire
en opposition au
ciel
trop
pour ne pas
marquer
exigment
quiconque
prince
amer de l'cueil
s'en
coiffe comme de

181
l'hroque
irrsistible mais
contenu
par sa petite raison virile

en foudre

soucieux expiatoire et
pubre muet r
ire

que
SI
La lucide et seigneuriale aigrette de
vertige au front
invisible scintille
puis ombrage une stature
mignonne tnbreuse debout en sa
torsion de
sirne
le
temps
de souffleter par d'impatientes squames
ultimes bifurques

un roc
f
aux manoir
tout de
suite
vapor en brumes

qui
imposa
une borne l'infini

C'TAIT LE
NOMBRE issu
stellaire
EXISTT-IL
autrement
qu'hallucination parse d'agonie

COMMENT-IL ET CESST-

182
IL sourdant
que ni et clos quand
apparu
enfin
par quelque profusion rpandue en
raret
SE CHIFFRT-IL

vidence de la
somme pour peu quune

ILLUM
INT-
IL
CE
SERAIT pire
non davantage ni
moins indiffremment mais
autant LE HASARD

Choit
la
plume rythmi
que suspens du
sinistre
s'ensevelir
aux cumes
originelles nagures
d'o sursauta son dlire jusqu' une
cime
fltrie
par la neutralit identique du gouffre

RIEN
de la mmorable crise o se
ft l'vnement accompli en vue de tout rsultat
nul
humain
N'AURA EU
LIEU une
lvation ordinaire verse l'absence
QU
E LE LIEU infrieur clapotis
quelconque comme pour disperser l'acte
vide

183
abruptement qui sinon
par son
mensonge
et
fond
la perdition
dans ces
parages du
vague
en quoi toute ralit se dissout

EXCEPT l'altitude PEUT-


TRE aussi loin qu'un endroit fusionne avec
au-
del
hors
l'intrt
quant lui
signal
en
gnral selon telle
obliquit par telle
dclivit
de
feux vers
ce doit
tre le
Septentrion aussi
Nord
UNE CONSTELLATION
froide d'oubli et de
dsutude
pas
tant
qu'elle
n'numre
sur quelque surface vacante et
suprieure
le heurt
successif
sidralement
d'un compte total en
formation veillant
doutant
roulant
bril
lant et
mditant

184
avant de
s'arrter
quelque point dernier qui le sacre

Tou
te pense met un Coup de Ds

A THROW OF THE DICE

NEVER

EVEN WHEN TRULY CAST IN


THE
ETERNAL CIRCUMSTANCE

OF A SHIPWRECKS DEPTH

Can be
only
the Abyss
raging whitened stalled beneath the
desperately sloping
incline of its
own wing
through an advance falling back from ill to take
flight
and veiling the
gushers
restraining the surges
gathered

185
far within the shadow buried
deep by that alternative sail
almost
matching its yawning
depth to the wingspan like a hull
of a vessel
rocked
from side to side

THE MASTER beyond former


calculations where the lost manoeuvre
with the age rose
implying that formerly he grasped
the helm of this conflagration of the
concerted horizon at his
feet
that readies
itself moves and
merges with the blow that
grips it as one threatens fate and the winds
the unique Number which cannot be
another Spirit
to hurl
it
into the
storm
relinquish the cleaving there and pass
proudly hesitates a corpse
pushed back by the arm from the secret rather
than taking
sides a hoary madman on behalf of the
waves one overwhelms the
head flows through the
submissive beard straight shipwreck that of the
man without a
vessel empty
no matter
where

ancestrally never to open the


fist clenched
beyond the helpless head a legacy in
vanishing to someone
ambiguous the
immemorial ulterior demon havi ng
from non-existent
regions led d man
the ol
towards this ultimate meeting
with

186
probability this
his childlike shade cares
rendered supple by the wave and
shielded from hard bone lost between the planks
born
of a frolic the sea
sea making a vain
attempt an Engagement
w hose dread the veil of illusion rejected as the phantom of a
gesture will
tremble collapse
madness
WILL
NEVER ABOLISH

AS IF
A simple insinuation
into silence entwined with
irony
or
the
mystery
hurled
howled
in some close swirl of mirth and terror
whirls round the
abyss
without
scattering
or dispersing

and cradles the virgin index there

AS IF

a solitary plume overwhelmed


untouched that a cap of
midnight grazes or
encounters
and
fixes in crumpled
velvet with a sombre burst of laughter
that rigid

187
whiteness
derisory
in opposition to the
heavens too
much
so not
to
signal
closely
any
bitter
prince of the reef

heroically adorned with


it
indomitable but
contained
by his petty reason virile

in lightning

anxious expiatory and


pubescent dumb
laughter

that
IF
The lucid and lordly crest of vertigo
on the invisible
brow sparkles
then shades a slim dark
tallness upright in its siren
coiling
at the
moment
of striking through impatient ultimate
scales bifurcated

a rock
a
deceptive manor
suddenly
evaporating in fog

that
imposed

188
limits on the infinite

IT WAS THE
NUMBER stellar
outcome
WERE IT TO HAVE
EXISTED other
than as a fragmented agonised hallucination
WERE IT
TO HAVE BEGUN AND
ENDED a
surging that denied and closed when
visible
at
last by
some profusion spreading in
sparseness
WERE IT TO HAVE AMOUNTED

to the fact of the


total though as little as one
WERE
IT TO
HAVE
LIGHT
ED
IT WOULD BE
worse no more nor
less indifferently but as much
CHANCE
Falls
the
plume rhythm
ic suspense of the
disaster
to bury
itself
in the original
foam from which its
delirium formerly leapt to the
summit
faded
by the same neutrality of abyss

189
NOTHING
of the memorable crisis where the
event matured accomplished in sight of all non-
existent
human outcomes
WILL HAVE
TAKEN
PLACE a
commonplace elevation pours out absence
BU
T THE PLACE some lapping
below as if to scatter the empty
act
abruptly that otherwise
by its
falsity
would have
plumbed
perdition
in this
region of
vagueness
in which all reality dissolves

EXCEPT at the
altitude PERHAPS as far
as a place fuses with beyond
o
utside the
interest
signalled regarding
it
in
general in accord
with such obliquity through such
declination
of
fire towards
what must
be the
Wain also
North
A CONSTELLATION
cold with neglect and
desuetude
not so much
though
that it fails to

190
enumerate
on some vacant and superior
surface
the consecutive
clash
side
really ofa
final account in
formation attending
doubting
rolling

shining and
meditating
before
stopping
at some last point that crowns it

All Thought
expresses a Throw of the Dice

Source:http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/French/MallarmeUnCoupdeDes.htm

191
APPENDIX II: MYSTICAL ANARCHISM BY SIMON CRITCHLEY (2009)

The return to religion has become perhaps the dominant clich of contemporary theory.
Of course, theory often offers nothing more than an exaggerated echo of what is
happening in reality, a political reality dominated by the fact of religious war. Somehow
we seem to have passed from a secular age, which we were ceaselessly told was post-
metaphysical, to a new situation where political action seems to flow directly from
metaphysical conflict. This situation can be triangulated around the often fatal
entanglement of politics and religion, where the third vertex of the triangle is violence.
Politics, religion and violence appear to define the present through which we are all too
precipitously moving, the phenomenon of sacred political violence, where religiously
justified violence is the means to a political end. The question of community, of human
being together, has to be framed for good or ill in terms of this triangulation of
politics, religion and violence. In this essay, I want to look at one way, admittedly a
highly peculiar and contentious way, in which the question of community was posed
historically and might still be posed. This is what I want to call mystical anarchism.
However, I want to begin somewhere else, to be precise with two political theories at
the very antipodes of anarchism.

Carl Schmitt The Political, Dictatorship and the Belief in Original Sin

Lets return to that return to religion. Perhaps no thinker has enjoyed more popularity in
the last years and seemed more germane than Carl Schmitt. The reasons for this are
complex and I have tried to address them elsewhere.(ref ID) In his Political Theology,
he famously writes, All significant concepts in the modern theory of the state are
secularized theological concepts. This is not just true historically, Schmitt insists, but
systematically and conceptually. The omnipotent God of medieval Christianity becomes
the omnipotent monarch, for example in Hobbess Leviathan. Until the late 17th
Century, the general will was a theological term of art that referred to the will of God.
By 1762, in Rousseaus Social Contract, the general will had been transformed into the
will of the people and the question of sovereignty was transposed from the divine to the
civic. Of course, this entails that the will of the people is always virtuous and those who

192
oppose it can be legitimately exterminated as evil. The politicization of theological
concepts leads ineluctably to the attempt to purify virtue through violence, which is the
political sequence that begins with French Jacobinism in 1792 and continues through to
the dreadful violent excesses of 20th Century politics that we can summarize with the
proper names of Lenin, Stalin and Hitler through to what some might call the Islamo-
Leninism or Islamo-Jacobinism of al Qaeda and related groups.

But such an argument does not exonerate so-called liberal democracy. On the contrary,
Schmitt views the triumph of the liberal-constitutional state as the triumph of deism, a
theological vision that unifies reason and nature by identifying the latter with divinity.
As can be seen most obviously in the deism of the Founding Fathers, American
democracy is a peculiar confection of Roman republicanism and puritanical
providentialism, enshrined in the John Winthrops sermon about the Citty (sic) on the
Hill (that Sarah Palin ascribed to Ronald Reagan), the upbuilding of the New
England. At the core of American democracy is a civil religion which functions as a
powerful sustaining myth and buttresses the idea of manifest destiny. Obamas political
genius was to have reconnected classical liberal constitutionalism with a motivating
civil religion focused around the idea of belief and a faith in change and progress.

Schmitts problem with liberalism is that it is anti-political. What this means is that for
the liberal every political decision must be rooted in a norm whose ultimate justification
flows from the constitution. Within liberalism, political decisions are derived from
constitutional norms and higher than the state stands the law and the interpretation of
the law. This is why the highest political authority in a liberal state rests with the
supreme court or its equivalent. Political action is subordinated to juridical
interpretation. For Schmitt, a truly political decision is what breaks with any norm, frees
itself from any normative ties and becomes absolute. This is why the question of the
state of exception is of such importance to Schmitt. The state of exception is that
moment of radical decision where the operation of the law is suspended. This is what
the Romans call iusticium, and which Agamben has written about compellingly. What
the decision on the state of exception reveals is the true subject of political sovereignty.
Schmitt famously writes that, Sovereign is who decides on the state of exception
(Sovern ist, wer ber den Ausnahmezustand entscheidet). That is, the sovereign is the
person who is exhibited by the decision on the state of exception. The question who?

193
is answered by the decision itself. That is, the decision on the state of exception, the
moment of the suspension of the operation of law, brings the subject who? into being.
To put it into a slogan, the subject is the consequence of a decision. The subject that is
revealed by the decision on the state of exception is the state and the core of Schmitts
theory of the political is to show that the true subject of political is the state and that the
state must always stand higher than the law.

Schmitt makes the fascinating remark that the concept of the state of exception is the
jurisprudential analogue to the concept of the miracle in theology. The triumph of
liberalism as the triumph of deism is the hegemony of a religious view of the world that
tries to banish the miracle, as that which would break with the legal-constitutional
situation, the order of what Badiou calls the event, and which at time he compares with
a miracle. Liberal constitutionalists, like Locke, Kant or Neo-Kantians like Kelsen seek
to eliminate the state of exception and subject everything to the rule of law, which is the
rule of the rule itself, namely reason. Schmitt criticizes the rationalism of liberalism in
the name of what he calls and here we find echoes of Dilthey in Schmitt that will
resound further in the young Heidegger a philosophy of concrete life. Such an
existential approach embraces the exception and breaks with the rule and the rule of the
rule. Schmitt writes, thinking explicitly of Kierkegaard, In the exception the power of
real life breaks through the crust of a mechanism that has become torpid through
repetition.

It is not difficult to see why Schmitts existential politics of passion and concrete life
and his critique of liberal democracy should have won him many friends on the left, like
Chantal Mouffe. Sadly perhaps, they are not friends that Schmitt would have chosen.
He was much happier in the company of Catholic counter-revolutionaries like Joseph de
Maistre and Donoso Corts. What has to be grasped is that Schmitts argument for the
state of exception as exemplifying the operation of the political is also an argument for
dictatorship. If the subject of sovereignty is revealed in the decision on the state of
exception, then this decision is the act where the constitution is suspended and
dictatorship is introduced. Dictatorship, then, is justified when there is an actual or
imagined danger to the existence of the state. Roman republicanism explicitly allowed
for this possibility and one might ponder as to the conceivability of republicanism as a
political form without the possibility of recourse to dictatorship. The condition of

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possibility for legality and legitimacy is the political act that suspends it.
Obama writes in The Audacity of Hope, Democracy is not a house to be built, it is a
conversation to be had. At the core of Obamas liberal civil religion is a resolute
defense of the primacy of the constitution, an absolute conviction that all political
decisions have to be derived from norms, and that the procedure for decision making is
deliberation. Its enough to make Habermas burst into a break dance. However, Schmitt
would be turning in his grave. For him, the idea of everlasting conversation is a
gruesomely comic fantasy. If liberals were presented with the question, Christ or
Barabas?, they would move to adjourn the proceedings and establish a commission of
investigation or a special committee of inquiry that would report back sometime the
following year. Within liberalism, everything becomes everlasting discussion, the
glorious conversation of humankind, the sphere of what Schmitt calls with a sneer
culture. Such a culture floats like foam over the socio-economic reality of the liberal
state which Schmitt, following his teacher Weber, compares to a huge industrial plant
dominated by capitalism and scientism and incapable of political action. For Catholic
counter-revolutionaries, like Donoso Corts, faced with the hegemony of a depoliticized
liberalism powerless in the face of a capitalist economy, the only solution was
dictatorship. Faced with the toothless liberal constitutionalism of Weimar Germany in
the 1920s and the fact of economic collapse, it is not difficult to understand the appeal
the argument for dictatorship had for Schmitt with the rise of the National Socialists.
The only way to restore the true subject of the political, namely the state, was the
suspension of the constitution and the decision to declare a state of exception.

The political theology of liberalism is the pervasiveness of a weak deistic God. The
liberal, like Obama, wants God, but one that is not active in the world. He wants a God
that permits no enthusiasm and who never contradicts or overrides the rule of reason
and law. That way, it is assumed, leads to the prophetic radicalism of Jeremiah Wright.
In short, liberals want a God that cannot perform miracles. Against this, Schmitt wants
to revivify the political by restoring the state of exception and the possibility of the
miracle. But, as Schmitt makes crystal clear, this requires a belief in original sin.

For Schmitt, every conception of the political takes a position on human nature. It
requires some sort of anthropological commitment: human beings are either naturally
good or evil. Schmitt thinks and I agree that this leads to the two most pervasive

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political alternatives to liberalism: authoritarianism and anarchism. Anarchists believe
in the essential goodness of the human being. Their progenitor is Rousseau and his
belief that wickedness is the historical outcome of the development of society towards
greater levels of inequality. By contrast, on this view, political legitimacy can be
achieved by what Rousseau frequently referred to as a change in nature, from
wickedness to goodness, of the kind imagined in The Social Contract. Although this is a
caricature of Rousseau and he could in no way be described as an anarchist, this view is
more accurately developed by Bakunin: namely that if human beings are essentially
good, then it is the mechanisms of the state, religion, law and the police that make them
bad. Once these mechanisms have been removed and replaced with autonomous self-
governing communes in a federative structure, then we will truly have heaven on earth.
We will come back to this view below, but it is worth noting that arguments for
anarchism always turn on the idea that if human beings are allowed to express what
comes naturally to them, if the force of life itself is not repressed by the deathly force of
the state, then it will be possible to organize society on the basis of mutual aid and
cooperation.

By contrast, authoritarians believe that human nature is essentially wicked. This is why
the concept of original sin is so important politically. For Donoso Corts and de
Maistre, human beings were naturally depraved and essentially vile. There is something
essentially defective in human nature which requires a corrective at the political and
theological level. It requires the authority of the state and the church. Thus, because the
human being is defined by original sin, authoritarianism, in the form of dictatorship say,
becomes necessary as the only means that might save human beings from themselves.
Human beings require the hard rule of authority because they are essentially defective.
Against this, anarchism is the political expression of freedom from original sin, that a
sinless union with others in the form of community is the realization of the highest
human possibility.

The idea of original sin is not some outdated relic from the religious past. It is the
conceptual expression of a fundamental experience of ontological defectiveness or lack
which explains the human propensity towards error, malice, wickedness, violence and
extreme cruelty. Furthermore this defect is not something we can put right, which is
why authoritarians think that human beings require the yoke of the state, God, law and

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the police. Politics becomes the means for protecting human beings from themselves,
that is, from their worst inclinations towards lust, cruelty and violence. As Hobbes
shows, any return to a state of nature is an argument in favour of the war of all against
all. We can find numerous post-Christian attempts to rethink the concept of original sin.
For example, Freud advances the Schopenhauerian thesis that there might simply be a
disjunction between eros and civilization, between the aggressive, destructive workings
of lIbid.inous desire and the achievements of culture. This disjunction is only held in
check through the internalized authority of the super-ego. Again, Heideggers ideas of
thrownness, facticity and falling were explicitly elaborated in connection with Luthers
conception or original sin and seek to explain the endless human propensity towards
evasion and flight from taking responsibility for oneself. Although such a responsibility
can be momentarily achieved in authentic resoluteness, it can never arrest the slide back
into inauthenticity. The concept of original sin is still very much with us.

John Gray The Naturalization of Original Sin, Political Realism and Passive Nihilism

The most consequent contemporary defence of the idea of original sin can be found in
the work of John Gray. What he gives us is a naturalized, Darwinian redescription of
original sin. To put it brutally, human beings are killer apes. We are simply animals, and
rather nasty aggressive primates at that, what Gray calls homo rapiens, rapacious
hominids. Sadly, we are also killer apes with metaphysical longings, which explains the
ceaseless quest to find some meaning to life that might be underwritten by an
experience of the holy or the numinous. Todays dominant metaphysical dogma and
this is Grays real and rightful target is liberal humanism, with its faith in progress,
improvement and the perfectibility of humankind, beliefs which are held with the same
unquestioning assurance that Christianity was held in Europe until the late 18th century.
As Gray makes clear, progress in the realm of science is a fact. Furthermore, it is a
good. De Quincey famously remarked that a quarter of human misery resulted from
toothache. The discovery of anaesthetic dentistry is, thus, an unmixed good. However,
although progress is a fact, faith in progress is a superstition and the liberal humanists
assurance in the reality of human progress is the barely secularized version of the
Christian belief in Providence.

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The most extreme expression of human arrogance, for Gray, is the idea that human
beings can save the planet from environmental destruction. Because they are killer apes,
that is, by virtue of a naturalized version of original sin that tends them towards
wickedness and violence, human beings cannot save their planet. Furthermore, the earth
doesnt need saving. This is where Gray borrows from James Lovelocks Gaia
hypothesis. The earth is suffering from a disseminated primatemaia, a plague of people.
Homo rapiens is ravaging the planet like a filthy pest that has infested a dilapidated but
once beautiful mansion. In 1600 the human population was about half a billion. In the
1990s it increased by the same amount. This plague cannot be solved by the very
species who are the efficient cause of the problem, but only by a large scale decline in
human numbers, back down to manageable levels, say half a billion or so. This is the
wonderfully distopian vision at the heart of Grays work: when the earth is done with
humans, it will recover and human civilization will be forgotten. Life will go on, but
without us. Global warming is simply one of many fevers that the earth has suffered
during its history. It will recover, but we wont because we cant.

Gray writes, with Schmitt explicitly in mind, Modern politics is a chapter in the history
of religion. Politics has become a hideous surrogate for religious salvation. Secularism,
which denies the truth of religion, is a religious myth. Specifically, it is a myth of
progress based in the idea that history has a providential design that is unfolding. Now,
such myths are important. They enable presidents like Barack Obama to get elected. But
it doesnt mean that they are true or even salutary. What most disturbs Gray are utopian
political projects based on some apocalyptic faith that concerted human action in the
world can allow for the realization of seemingly impossible ends and bring about the
perfection of humanity. Action cannot change the world because we are the sort of
beings that we are: killer apes who will use violence, force and terror at the service of
some longed-for metaphysical project. For Gray, the core belief that drives utopianism,
on the right as much as the left, is the false assumption that the world can be
transformed by human action and that history itself is progress towards such a
transformation. As Gray makes explicit, his critique of utopianism derives in large part
from Norman Cohns hugely influential book, originally published in 1957, The Pursuit
of the Millennium.

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It is Cohns analysis of millenarianism that is so important for Gray. This is the idea
that salvation is not just a possibility, but a certainty which will correspond to five
criteria: salvation is collective, terrestrial, imminent, total and miraculous. In his later
work, Cosmos, Chaos and the World to Come, Cohn traced the roots of this millenarian
faith back to Zoroasters break with the view that the world was the reflection of a static
cosmic order defined by cycle of conflict. On the Zoroastrian view, sometime between
1500 and 1200 BC, the world was moving, through incessant conflict, towards a
conflictless state. A time would come when, during a final bloody battle, God and the
forces of good would defeat once and for all the armies of evil. Thus, a marvellous
consummation is at hand, the moment when good will triumph over evil and the agents
of evil will be annihilated. After that time, Cohn writes, The elect will thereafter live as
a collectivity, unanimous and without conflict, on a transformed and purified earth.

This idea finds expression in certain Jewish sects before finding its most powerful
articulation in Christian ideas of the Apocalypse, the Last Days and the Millennium. On
the basis of the authority of the Book of Revelation, it was believed that after Christs
Second Coming, he would establish a kingdom of God on earth and reign over it with
his elect, the company of saints, for a thousand years until the Last Judgement and the
general resurrection of the dead. Early Christians, like St Paul, believed that the Second
Coming was imminent and that they were living in the end times. The search for signs
of the Second Coming obviously took on enormous importance. The key clue to the
beginning of the end times and this is crucial is the appearance of the Antichrist: the
prodigious, evil, arch-enemy of God. The Antichrist is what Ernesto Laclau would call a
floating signifier in millenarian political theology. He is endlessly substitutable can be
personified the great Satan, the Pope, the Muslims or the Jews. What is crucial here is
the identification of the Antichrist as the incarnation of evil that presages the
reappearance of Christ or a similarly messianic figure and leads to a bloody and violent
terrestrial combat to build heaven on earth. This, of course, is the deep logic of the
Crusades, which began with Pope Urban IIs plea to the Church council of 1095 to go to
Jerusalem and, in his words, liberate the Church of God. This lead directly to the
Peoples Crusade or the Peasants Crusade in 1096-97 and to the formation of a
Christian fighting force in Asia Minor that was between 50,000 to 70,000 strong. It is a
compelling and disturbing historical fact that the recruitment of soldiers for the

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Peoples Crusade in France, Germany and the Low Countries established a disturbing
new and seemingly addictive habit in Western life: pogroms against the Jews. It would
appear that the idea of the people requires the external identification of an evil enemy
who can be legitimately annihilated in the name of God. Such has arguably always been
the justificatory logic of Western military intervention: it is right to exterminate the
enemy because they are the incarnation of evil. Such views have always vindicated
crusaders from the 11th Century through to their more recent epigones. From the time
of Saladins destruction of the Third Crusade in the last 12th Century, the response has
always been the same: jihad or war against infidels. It is perhaps not so surprising that
Saddam Hussein sought to depict himself in propaganda alongside Saladin. After all,
they were both born in Tikrit, despite the awful irony that Saladin was a Kurd.

What is implied fairly discreetly by Cohn and rather loudly trumpeted by Gray, is that
Western civilization might be defined in terms of the central role of millenarian
thinking. What takes root with early Christian belief and massively accelerates in
medieval Europe finds its modern expression in a sequence of bloody utopian political
projects, from Jacobinism to Bolshevism, Stalinism, Nazism and different varieties of
Marxist-Leninist, anarchist or Situationist ideology. Much of John Grays Black Mass
attempts to show how the energy of such utopian political projects has drifted from the
left to the right. The apocalyptic conflict with the axis of evil by the forces of good has
been employed by Bush, Blair et al as a means to forge the democratic millennium, a
new American century of untrammeled personal freedom and free markets. In the past
decade, millennial faith has energized the project of what we might call military neo-
liberalism, where violence is the means for realizing liberal democratic heaven on
Earth. What is essential to such neo-liberal millenarian thinking is the consolidation of
the idea of the good through the identification of evil, where the Anti-Christ keeps
putting on different masks: Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Kim Jong-il,
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, etc. etc.

We saw how Schmitts critique of liberalism led him towards an argument for
dictatorship underpinned by a belief in original sin. Where does Grays naturalization of
the concept of original sin leave us? He powerfully identifies the poison within liberal
humanism, but what is the antidote? This is what he calls political realism. We have to
accept that the world is in a state of ceaseless conflict never far from a state of war. In

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the face of such conflict, Gray counsels that we have to abandon the belief in utopia and
try and cope with reality. This means accepting the tragic contingencies of life and the
fact that there are simply moral and political dilemmas for which there is no solution.
We have to learn to abandon daydreams such as a world of universal human rights, or
that history has a teleological purpose that underwrites human action. We even have to
renounce the Obama-esque delusion that ones life is a narrative that is an episode in
some universal story of progress. Against the grotesque distortion of conservatism into
the millenarian military neo-liberalism of the neo-conservatives, Gray wants to defend
the core belief of traditional Burkean Toryism. The latter begins in a realistic
acceptance of human imperfection and frailty, a version of original sin. As such, the
best that flawed and potentially wicked human creatures can hope for is a commitment
to civilized constraints that will prevent the very worst from happening. Political
realism is the politics of the least worst.

The most original feature of Grays work is the way in which a traditional conservatism
underpinned by a deep pessimism about human nature is fused with a certain strand of
Taoism. As Gray points out, Nothing is more human than the readiness to kill and die
in order to secure a meaning for life. The great human delusion is that action can
achieve a terrestrial salvation. This has lead to nothing but bloodshed, the great
slaughter bench of millenarian history. Killer apes like us have to learn to give up the
search for meaning and learn to see the purpose of aesthetic or spiritual life as the
release from meaning. If seeing ones life as an episode in some universal narrative of
meaning is a delusion, then the cure consists in freeing oneself from such narratives.
Maybe we just have to accept illusions. What interests Gray in the subtle paradoxes of
the greatest Taoist thinker, Chuang-Tzu, is the acceptance of the fact that life is a dream
without the possibility or even the desire to awaken from the dream. If we cannot be
free of illusions, if illusions are part and parcel of our natural constitution, then why not
simply accept them? In the final pages of Black Mass, Gray writes, Taoists taught that
freedom lies in freeing oneself from personal narratives by identifying with cosmic
processes of death and renewal. Thus, rather than seek the company of utopian
thinkers, we should find consolation in the words of mystics, poets and pleasure-
lovers. It is clear that for Gray, like the late Heidegger, the real source of human
problems resides in the belief that action can transform the world. Action simply
provides a consolation for the radical insignificance of our lives by momentarily staving

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off the threat of meaninglessness. At the core of Grays work is a defense of the ideal of
contemplation over action, the ataraxia of the ancients, where we simply learn to see the
mystery as such and do not seek to unveil it in order to find some deeper purpose
within.

Schopenhauer, often read in an abridged aphoristic form, was the most popular
philosopher of the 19th Century. Nothing sells better than epigrammatic pessimism. It
gives readers reasons for their misery and words to buttress their sense of hopelessness
and impotence. Such is what Nietzsche called European Buddhism. John Gray is the
Schopenhauerian European Buddhist of our age. What he offers is a gloriously
pessimistic cultural analysis which rightly reduces to rubble the false idols of the cave
of liberal humanism. Counter to the upbeat evangelical atheism of Dawkins, Hitchins et
al , Gray provides a powerful argument in favour of human wickedness that is
consistent with Darwinian naturalism. It leads to the position that I call passive
nihilism.

The passive nihilist looks at the world from a certain highly cultivated detachment and
finds it meaningless. Rather than trying to act in the world, which is pointless, the
passive nihilist withdraws to a safe contemplative distance and cultivates and refines his
aesthetic sensibility by pursuing the pleasures of lyric poetry, bird-watching or botany,
as was the case with the aged Rousseau. In a world that is rushing to destroy itself
through capitalist exploitation or military crusades (usually two arms of the same killer
ape), the passive nihilist withdraws to an island where the mystery of existence can be
seen for what it is without distilling it into a meaning. In the face of the coming century
which in all likelihood will be defined by the violence of faith and the certainty of
environmental devastation, Gray offers a cool but safe temporary refuge. Happily, we
will not be alive to witness much of the future that he describes.

I have looked at two interrelated responses to the thought that the modern concepts of
politics are secularized theological concepts. Schmitts critique of constitutional
liberalism as anti-political leads him to a concept of the political that finds its
expression in state sovereignty, authoritarianism and dictatorship. Grays critique of
liberal humanism and the ideas of progress and Providence that it embodies leads him to
a political realism of a traditional Tory variety. He fuses this, in an extremely

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compelling way, with what I have called passive nihilism. Both conceptions of the
political are underpinned by ideas of original sin, whether the traditional Catholic
teaching or Grays Darwinian naturalization of the concept. The refutation of any and
all forms of utopianism follows from this concept of original sin. It is because we are
killer apes that our metaphysical longings for a conflict-free perfection of humanity can
only be pursued with the millennial means of violence and terror.

Millenarianism

Is the utopian impulse in political thinking simply the residue of a dangerous political
theology that we are much better off without? Are the only live options in political
thinking either Schmitts authoritarianism, Grays political realism or business as usual
liberalism; that is, a politics of state sovereignty, an incremental, traditionalist
conservatism or varieties of more or less enthused Obamaism? In order to approach
these questions I would like to present the form of politics that Schmitt and Gray
explicitly reject, namely anarchism. Now, I have sought to outline and defend a version
of anarchism in some of my recent work. This is what I call an ethical neo-anarchism
where anarchist practices of political organization are coupled with an infinitely
demanding subjective ethics of responsibility. However, for reasons that will hopefully
become clear, I want to present a very different version of anarchism, perhaps the most
radical that can be conceived, namely mystical anarchism. The key issue here is what
happens to our thinking of politics and community once the fact of original sin has been
overcome.

Lets return to Cohns The Pursuit of the Millenium. What Cohn tries to show is the
way in which millenarian Christian belief took root amongst significant sectors of the
rootless and dislocated poor of Europe between the 11th and 16th Centuries. The belief
that these were the Last Days led to a revolutionary eschatology, where a series of
messiah figures, prophets or indeed Christs would spontaneously appear. Cohn gives
an extraordinary catalogue of these messiahs, from Tancheln, the Emperor Frederick,
the Pseudo-Baldwin, through to John Ball, Hans Bhm, Thomas Mntzer and terrifying
and bloodthirsty Jan Bockelsen, better known as John of Leyden. What unites these
figures is not just their heretical fury and utter self-belief. It is rather their capacity to

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construct what Cohn calls, non-perjoratively but put psychoanalytically, a phantasy or
social myth around which a collective can be formed. The political structure of this
phantasy becomes complete with the identification of an enemy. It is always in relation
to an enemy that the eschatological phantasy finds its traction. This enemy is always the
Antichrist, whose identity floats in different historical manifestations of millenarianism.
It can be the Moslems or indeed Jews for the Crusaders, but it is more often simply the
forces of the Catholic church and the state. A holy war is then fought with the Antichist,
where violence becomes the purifying or cleansing force through which the evil ones
are to be annihilated. Terror is a common feature of life in the New Jerusalem.

Revolutionary millenarianism desires a boundless social transformation that attempts to


recover an egalitarian state of nature, a kind of golden age of primitive communism.
This required the abolition of private property and the establishment of a commonality
of ownership. Justification for such views would invariably be Biblical, usually the
Garden of Eden. As a famous proverb from the time of the English Peasants Revolt
puts it, possibly recited by the hedge priest John Ball,

When Adam delved and Eve span,


Who was then a gentleman?.

The task of politics was the construction of the New Jerusalem and the model was
always paradise, the Garden of Eden before the occurrence of original sin. There was a
perfectly obviously reason why such forms of revolutionary millenarian belief should
arise amongst the poor: they owned nothing and therefore had nothing to lose. Thus, by
destroying private property, they had everything to gain. The only extant fragment from
John Ball, preserved and probably embellished by chroniclers, makes the point
powerfully,

Things cannot go well in England, nor ever will, until all goods are held in common,
and until there will be neither serfs nor gentlemen, and we shall be equal. For what
reason have they, whom we call lords, got the best of us? How did they deserve it? Why
do they keep us in bondage? If we all descended from one father and one mother, Adam
and Eve, how can they assert or prove that they are more masters than ourselves?
Except perhaps that they make us work and produce for them to spend!

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Yet, the poor, as the saying goes, have always been with us. What seems to be novel in
the earlier part of large historical panorama that Cohn describes is the emergence of the
urban poor in the rapidly industrializing textile-producing towns of Flanders and
Brabant from the 11th Century onwards. Thus, it is not simply that millenarian belief
arises amongst the poor, but specifically amongst those groups whose traditional ways
of life have broken down. Millenarian belief arises amongst the socially dislocated,
recently urbanized, poor who had moved from the country to the city for economic
reasons. Although Cohn says nothing on this topic, it is interesting to note that the
socio-economic condition of possibility for revolutionary eschatology is dislocation, the
same category that Marx employs to describe the formation of the industrial proletariat
during the industrial revolution.

(Perhaps a similar hypothesis could be used to explain the formation of millenarian


sects in the United States from the time of settlement onwards. I am thinking in
particular of the explosion of millenarian faith in areas like the burned-over district of
upper New York State during the late 18th Century and the first decades of the 19th
Century in groups like the Shakers. It is not exactly difficult to find the living
descendents of such millenarian religious belief all across the contemporary United
States. There seems to be a powerful correlation between evangelism, social dislocation
and poverty. Yet, what is sorely missing from contemporary American millenarianism
is the radical anarcho-communism of groups like the Shakers. For the latter, all property
was held in common, without mine and thine. An ethos manual labour was combined
with spiritual purification achieved through taking the vow of chastity. With hands at
work and hearts set to God, the Shakers attempted to recover the communistic equality
of Eden without the sins of the flesh. This was further radicalized through the
revelations of the founder of the Shakers, Ann Lee or Mother Ann (1736-84), from
Manchester who brought a select band of persecuted Shakers (more properly, The
Church of Believers in Christ) from England to New York 1774 before setting up
communities in upper state New York and Western Massachusetts. Various divine
visitations led her to declare celibacy and the imminent second coming of Christ. She
was seen by some as the female equivalent of God, the female complement to the divine
male principle. For the Shakers, to be a believer in Christ was to participate in the dual
nature of divinity, both male and female.)

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Medieval revolutionary millenarianism drew its strength and found its energy amongst
the marginal and the dispossessed. It often arose against a background of disaster,
plague and famine. As Cohn notes,

The greatest wave of millenarian excitement, one that swept through the whole of
society, was precipitated by the most universal natural disaster of the Middle Ages, the
Black Death.

It was amongst the lowest social strata that millenarian enthusiasm lasted longest and
expressed itself most violently. For example, the flagellant movement first appeared in
Perugia in 1260 as an apparent consequence of the famine of 1250 and the plague of
1259. It swept from Italy into the Rhine Valley in the 14th Century, where great crowds
of itinerant flagellants went from town to town like a scourging insurgency becoming
God-like through acts of collective imitatio Christi. Such extreme self-punishment was
deemed heretical because it threatened the Churchs authority over the economy of
punishment, penitence and consolation. The poor were not meant to take the whip into
their own hands. But the centerpiece of Cohns book is the description and analysis of
the dominant form of revolutionary millenarianism: the so-called heresy of the free
spirit. It is to this that I would now like to turn.

The Movement of the Free Spirit

We know very little about the movement of the Free Spirit. Everything turns on the
interpretation of Pauls words, Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Lord's Spirit
is, there is freedom(2 Corinthians 3:17). There are two possibilities here: either the
Lords Spirit is outside the self or within it. If the Lords Spirit is outside the self,
because the soul languishes in sin and perdition, then freedom can only come through
submitting oneself to divine will and awaiting the saving activity of grace. Such is the
standard Christian teaching, which explains the necessity for the authority of the Church
as that terrestrial location or, better, portal to the Lords Spirit. But if and here is the
key to the heresy the Lords Spirit in within the self, then the soul is free and has no
need of the mediation of the Church. Indeed, and we will come back to this presently, if

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the Lords Spirit is within the self, then essentially there is no difference between the
soul and God. The heretical Adamites who moved to Bohemia after being expelled from
Picardy in the early 15th Century, are reported as beginning the Lords Prayer with the
words, Our Father, who art within us. If a community participates in the Spirit of
God, then it is free and has no need of the agencies of the Church, state, law or police.
These are the institutions of the unfree world that a community based on the Free Spirit
rejects. It is not difficult to grasp the anarchistic consequences of such a belief.

The apparently abundant and widespread doctrinal literature of the movement of the
Free Spirit was repeatedly seized and destroyed by the Inquisition. Very few texts
remain, such as the fascinating Schwester Katrei, apocryphally attributed to Meister
Eckhart. At least one of the extant manuscripts bears the inscription, That is Sister
Katrei, Meister Eckharts Daughter from Strasbourg. Although this is a huge topic that I
do not want to broach here, the relation between Eckharts thinking, deemed heretical
posthumously by the Pope at Avignon in 1327, and the movement of the Free Spirit is
hugely suggestive. Of the documents related to the Free Spirit that remain, Id like to
focus on Marguerite Poretes extraordinary The Mirror of Simple and Annihilated Souls
and Who Remain Only in Wanting and Desire of Love, to give the text its full and
indeed ambiguous title. The text was only discovered in 1946. It seems clear that
Eckhart knew Poretes The Mirror and responded to it explicitly or implicitly in his
texts and sermons. For example, Michael Sells claims that when Eckhart returned to
Paris in 1311, one year after Poretes execution, he stayed at the same Dominican house
as William Humbert, Poretes inquisitor. One can only wonder at the content of their
conversations. The Mirror is an instruction manual of sorts that details the seven stages
that the soul must pass through in order to overcome original sin and recover the
perfection that belonged to human beings prior to their corruption by the Fall. The
Mirror seems to have circulated in multiple manuscripts and translations in the Middle
Ages and Porete appears to have had many followers as far away from her native
Hainaut in northern France as England and Italy. We know relatively little with
certainty about Porete, although there is a surprising amount of documentation related to
her trial and execution for heresy . She was a learned Beguine, which was the term that
was used to describe semireligious women who lived alone or in Beguine houses or
Beguinages. These began to appear in the southern Low Countries in the late 12th and
early 13th Centuries and were effectively communes or experimental associations for

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the sisters of the Free Spirit and their brothers, the Beghards, from which we derive the
English word beggar. Marguerite seems to have led an itinerant mendicant life of
poverty accompanied by a guardian Beghard. Her book was condemned, seized and
publicly burned at Valenciennes, but she refused to retract it. When Porete came to the
attention of the Inquisition in Paris, she was imprisoned for eighteen months, but
refused to recant or seek absolution. She was burnt at the stake in 1310. The fact that
she was treated with relative liberality and not immediately executed seems to suggest
that she was from the upper strata of society and she had some powerful friends.
Although it is not my topic here, it is truly fascinating how many women were involved
with the movement of the Free Spirit and their relatively high social status. Scholars of
mysticism like Amy Hollywood and poets like Anne Carson have rightly identified
Porete and the Beguine movement as a vital precursor to modern feminism. It is highly
revealing that, in the proceeding of her trial, Poretes work is not just referred to as
being filled with errors and heresies, but as a pseudo-mulier, a fake woman.

Becoming God

Id like to identify the core of the movement of the Free Spirit by recounting the seven
stages of what Porete calls the devout soul outlined in Chapter 118 of The Mirror (the
book contains 139 Chapters). What is described is nothing other than the process of
self-deification, of becoming God.

1. The first state occurs when the Soul is touched by Gods grace and assumes the
intention of following all Gods commandments, of being obedient to divine law.

2. The second state mounts yet higher and Soul becomes a lover of God over and
above commandments and laws. Regardless of any command, the Soul wants to do all it
can to please its beloved. In this second state, and one thinks of St. Pauls argument in
Romans here, the external becomes internal and law is overcome by love.

3. In the third state, consumed by love for divine perfection, the Soul attaches itself
to making works of goodness. These can be images, representations, projects and
objects that give us delight in glorifying God. But Porete insists, and this is a theme that

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Eckhart will take up in his extraordinary German sermons, the Soul renounces those
works in which she has this delight, and puts to death the will which had its life from
this The Soul no longer wills, but undergoes a detachment from the will by obeying
the will of another, namely God. The Soul must become a martyr; that is, a witness
and victim to God by abstaining from works and destroying the will. Poretes language
here is extremely violent, writing that, One must crush oneself, hacking and hewing
away at oneself to widen the place in which Love will want to be. This is the beginning
of the painful process of the annihilation of the Soul, where suffering is necessary in
order to bore open a space that is wide enough for love to enter. Anne Carson rightly
compares this process of annihilation with Simone Weils idea of decreation, To undo
the creature in us.

4. In the fourth state, when I have renounced my will and hewn away at myself,
when I have begun to decreate and annihilate myself, I am filled with Gods love and
exalted into delight. Poretes wording here is extraordinary, the Soul, does not
believe that God has any greater gift to bestow on any soul here below than this love
which Love for love has poured forth within her. In the fourth state, the Soul is in love
with love as such and becomes intoxicated, Gracious Love makes her wholly drunken
(emphasis mine).

Excursus: In his wonderfully capacious and open-minded investigation of mysticism in


The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James discusses the relation between
mystical states and drunkenness. This is what he calls the idea of anaesthetic
revelation, which he links to his own experiences with nitrous oxide or laughing gas,
which had been a drug of choice amongst scientists, poets and intellectuals throughout
the 19th Century. Nitrous oxide, James recounts from personal experience, induces a
feeling of reconciliation or oneness at a level deeper than that of ordinary waking
consciousness with its separation of subjects and objects. Indeed, James goes further
and compares this mystical experience of reconciliation, or cosmic consciousness, with
what he sees as Hegels pantheism. This is, for James, the monistic insight, in which
the OTHER in its various forms appears absorbed into the One. On this reading of
Hegel (and, of course, other readings are possible), the key to dialectical thinking is the
unity of the Same and the Other, where what Hegel calls the Concept would be that
movement of thinking which grasps both itself and its opposite. James adds that, this is

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a dark saying, but he insists that the living sense of the reality of Hegels philosophy
only comes in the artificial mystic state of mind. In others words, Hegel can only be
understood when one is drunk on laughing gas.

Drunkenness is always followed by a hangover. Such is the condition of what Porete


calls dismay and which other mystics commonly call distress, dereliction and distance
from God. The error of the fourth state - and by implication Jamess analysis of
mysticism - is to believe that the progress of the Soul is complete in its beatific union
with God. Such a conception of unio mystica is common to many mystics and was
tolerated and even encouraged by the Church, when and where it could be controlled.
Porete, however, is engaged in a much more radical enterprise, namely the Souls
annihilation. This brings us to the fifth state.

5. The dismay and dereliction of the fifth state arises from the following sober
consideration: on the one hand, the Soul considers God as the source of things that are,
that is, of all goodness. But, on the other hand, the Soul then turns to consider itself,
from which all things are not. The free will that God put into the Soul has been
corrupted by the Fall. Insofar as the Soul wills anything, that thing is evil for it is
nothing but the expression of original sin and the separation from the divine source of
goodness. As Porete puts it, The Souls Will seesthat it cannot progress by itself if it
does not separate itself from her own willing, for her nature is evil by that inclination
towards nothingness to which nature tends How, then, can I will not to will? I
cannot, for every act of will, even the will not to will, is the expression of separation
from divine goodness and therefore evil. As we saw in the third state, the Soul has tried
to cut away at itself, to bore a hole in itself that will allow love to enter. But the
momentary exaltation of the fourth state, drunk with divinity, was illusory and
transitory. The fifth state, Porete writes, has subdued her (i.e. the Soul) in showing to
the Soul her own self. It is here that we face what Porete repeatedly calls an abyss,
deep beyond all depths, without compass or end. This abyss is the gap between the
willful and errant nature of the Soul and divine goodness. It cannot be bridged by any
action. In the fifth state, two natures are at war within me: the divine goodness that I
love and the evil that I am by virtue of original sin. As Paul puts it, The Good that I
would I do not, but the Evil that I would not that I do. Faced with this abyss, in the fifth
state I become a paradox. The Soul wants to annihilate itself and unify with God. But

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how? How can an abyss become a byss?
6. This is the work of the sixth state, which is the highest that can be attained
during terrestrial life. In the sobriety of the fifth state, the Soul knows two things: divine
goodness and the errant activity of the will. In making her look at herself again, in
such painful self-scrutiny, Porete adds that,
these two things that she sees take away from her will and longing and works of
goodness, and so she is wholly at rest, and put in possession of her own state of free
being, the high excellence of which gives her repose from every thing.
Having gone through the ordeal of the fifth state, the Soul finds repose and rest, what
Eckhart will call an experience of releasement.

The reasoning here is delicate: the abyss that separates the Soul from God cannot be
byssed or bridged through an act of will. On the contrary, it is only through the
extinction of the will and the annihilation of the Soul that the sixth state can be attained.
That is, the Soul itself becomes an abyss, that is, it becomes emptied and excoriated,
entering a condition of absolute poverty. It is only in such poverty that the wealth of
God can be poured into the Soul. In the fifth state, the Soul looked at herself and
experienced dereliction. But in the sixth state, the Soul does not see herself at all.
Not only that, the Soul also does not see God. Rather, and these words are
extraordinary,
God of his divine majesty sees himself in her, and by him this Soul is so illumined that
she cannot see that anyone exists, except only God himself, from whom all things
are
When the Soul has become annihilated and free of all things, then it can be illumined
by the presence of God. It is only by reducing myself to nothing, that I can join with
that divine something. As Porete insists, in this sixth state the Soul is not yet glorified,
that is, a direct participant in the glory of God. This only happens after our death, in the
seventh state. But what happens in the sixth state is even more extraordinary than glory.

Let me quote at length the key passage,


this Soul, thus pure and illumined, sees neither God nor herself, but God sees
himself of himself in her, for her, without her, who - that is, God shows to her that
there is nothing except him. And therefore this Soul knows nothing except him, and
loves nothing except him, and praises nothing except him, for there is nothing but he.

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Which means the following: the annihilated Soul becomes the place for Gods infinite
self-reflection. The logic here is impeccable: if the Soul has become nothing, then it can
obviously see neither itself nor God. On the contrary, God enters into the place that I
created by hewing and hacking away at myself. But that place is no longer my self.
What the Soul has created is the space of its own nihilation. This nihil is the place, or
better what Augustine might call the no place, where God reflects on himself, where
God sees himself of himself in her. Gods love fills the annihilated Soul, in a
movement of reflection which is at once both, for her and without her. The only way
in which the Soul can become for God is by becoming without itself. In its nihilation,
the no-place of the Soul becomes the place of Gods reflection on himself, in-himself
and for-himself.

As Anne Carson rightly asks in her inquiry into how it is that women like Sappho,
Simone Weil and Marguerite Porete tell God, What is it that love dares the self to do?
She answers that, Love dares the self to leave itself behind, to enter into poverty. Love
is, thus, the audacity of impoverishment, of complete submission. It is an act of absolute
spiritual daring that induces a passivity where the self becomes annihilated; it is a
subjective act where the subject extinguishes itself. Become a husk or empty vessel
through this act of daring, the fullness of love enters in. It is through the act of
annihilation that the Soul knows nothing but God, and loves nothing except him. Once
the Soul is not, God is the only being that is.

7. As I already indicated, the seventh state is only attained after our death. It is the
condition of everlasting glory of which we shall have no knowledge until our souls
have left our bodies.

Communistic Consequences

It is time to draw the significant consequences from Poretes sinuous argumentation.


Why was The Mirror condemned as heresy? For the simple reason that once the Soul is
annihilated, there is nothing to prevent its identity with God. By following the itinerary
of the seven states described in The Mirror, the Soul is annihilated and I become

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nothing. In becoming nothing, God enters the place where my Soul was. At that point, I
whatever sense the first person pronoun might still have become God. When I
become nothing, I become God.

As William James shows, varieties of this claim can be found in the mystical tradition.
But perhaps everything goes back to St. Pauls words in Galatians 2:20, I live, yet not
I, but Christ liveth in me. That is, when I annihilate myself, that is, when I crucify
myself in an imitatio Christi, then Christ lives within me. In other words, the I that lives
is not I but God. This might also be linked to the Henry Susos words, The spirit dies,
and yet it is alive in the marvels of the Godhead. Or indeed, we could make a
connection to the differenceless point of the Godhead at the heart of Eckharts theology.
Yet, Porete is more radical still. The heart of the heresy of the Free Spirit is not some
Neo-Platonic idea of the contemplative union of the intellect with the One as the source
of an emanation, God, the bliss of contact with the divine. Rather, as Cohn writes, It
was a passionate desire of certain human beings to surpass the condition of humanity
and to become God. What Porete is describing is a painful process of decreation:
boring a whole in oneself so that love might enter. It is closer to Teresa of Avilas
piercing of the heart that takes place when she is on fire with the love of God, The pain
was so great, it made me moan. This desire for annihilation unleashes the most extreme
violence against the self. For example, Angela of Foligno writes,
There are times when such great anger ensues that I am scarcely able to stop from
totally tearing myself apart. There are also times when I cant hold myself back from
striking myself in a horrible way, and sometimes my head and limbs are swollen.

The consequence of such a process of self-deification is to overcome the condition of


original sin and to return to the freedom that human beings enjoyed before the Fall. As
the founder of the Quakers, George Fox, has it, I was come up to the state of Adam in
which he was before he fell. It is not difficult to see why the Movement of the Free
Spirit posed such a profound threat to the authority of the Catholic Church and the
governmental and legislative authority of various states in which it manifested itself. If
it was possible to overcome original sin and regain the Edenic state of intimacy with the
divine, then what possible function might be served by the Catholic Church, whose
authority as a mediator between the human and the divine is only justified insofar as
human beings live and travail in the wake of original sin. As we have seen in our

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discussion of Schmitt, all forms of ecclesiastical and governmental authoritarianism
require a belief in original sin. It is only because human beings are defective and
imperfect that church and state become necessary. If human beings become free, that is,
perfected by overcoming the sin and death that define the post-Lapsarian human
condition, then this has dramatic political consequences.

To begin with, as we saw in our allusions to John Ball and the Peasants Revolt, if the
spirit is free then all conceptions of mine and thine vanish. In the annihilation of the
Soul, mine becomes thine, I becomes thou, and the no-place of the Soul becomes the
space of divine self-reflection. Such an experience of divinity, of course, is not my
individual private property, but is the commonwealth of those who are free in spirit.
Private property is just the consequence of our fallen state. The Souls recovery of its
natural freedom entails commonality of ownership. The only true owner of property is
God and his wealth is held in common by all creatures without hierarchy or distinctions
of class and hereditary privilege. The political form of the Movement of the Free Spirit
is communism.

Furthermore, it is a communism whose social bond is love. We have seen how Porete
describes the work of love as the audacity of the Souls annihilation. Clearly, there can
be no higher authority than divine love, which entails that communism would be a
political form higher than law (Marx repeats many of these ideas, imagining
communism as a society without law). We might say that law is the juridical form that
structures a social order. As such, it is based on the repression of the moment of
community. Law is the external constraint on society that allows authority to be
exercised, all the way to its dictatorial suspension. From the perspective of the
communism of the Free Spirit, law loses its legitimacy because it is a form of
heteronomous authority as opposed to autonomously chosen work of love. Furthermore,
and perhaps this is what was most dangerous in the Movement of the Free Spirit, if
human beings are free of original sin, where God is manifested as the spirit of
commonality, then there is no longer any legitimacy to moral constraints on human
behaviour that do not directly flow from our freedom. The demands of the state and the
church can simply be ignored if they are not consistent with the experience of freedom.
To be clear, this is not at all to say that the Movement of the Free Spirit implies
immoralism. On the contrary, it is to claim that morality has flow from freedom by

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being consistent with a principle of that is located not in the individual but in its divine
source, the Free Spirit that is held in common.

The Movement of the Free Spirit has habitually been seen as encouraging both moral
and sexual libertinage. One cannot exaggerate the extent to which the alleged sexual
excesses of the adepts of the Free Spirit obsessed the Inquisition that investigated and
condemned the Movement, destroying its literature and executing or incarcerating its
members. Most of what we know of the Movement is mediated through the agency of
the Church that outlawed it. Such evidence is clearly difficult to trust. In particular, the
various inquisitors seem obsessed with cataloguing instances of nakedness, as if that
were evidence of the most depraved morals. But what are clothes for, apart from
keeping the body warm? They are a consequence of the Fall when we learned for the
first time to cover our bodies for shame. If that shame is lifted with the overcoming of
original sin, then why wear clothing at all? Furthermore, this tendency to prurience is
continued by the Movements modern inquisitors, like Cohn, who takes great delight in
describing the anarchic eroticism of the adepts of the Free Spirit. For example, he
takes evident pleasure in describing the excesses of the Nuns of Schweidnitz in Silesia
in 1330s, who claimed that they had such command over the Holy Trinity that they
could ride it as in a saddle. On this view, the Movement of the Free Spirit allows and
even encourages sexual licentiousness where adepts throw off the moral prudery of the
Church and run amok in some sort of huge orgy.

It is, of course, impossible to assess these claims of erotic libertinage. After all, the
accusations are made by the accusers and it would be somewhat odd to trust them
entirely. In the case of Cohn, the curiosity about the sexual antics of adepts of the Free
Spirit is perhaps explained by the Zeitgeist in which he was writing. In the Conclusion
to the 1970 revised edition of The Pursuit of the Millenium, Cohn argues for a
continuity between medieval practices of self-deification and the ideal of a total
emancipation of the individual from society, even from external reality itselfwith the
help of psychedelic drugs But I see little evidence for the suggestion of such narcotic
or erotic license. On the contrary, what one finds in Porete and in many other mystical
texts from the period and later is not some wild unleashing of repressed sexual energy,
but rather its subtle transformation. Texts like The Mirror testify to a passion
transformed from the physical to the metaphysical, to a certain spiritualization of desire.

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Some might call this sublimation. What is most striking in the writing of the mystics,
particularly female mystics, is the elevation of the discourse of desire in relation to the
object cause of that desire, which is the beloved: God usually in the person of Christ.
What the female mystic wants is to love and desire in the same place and this requires
both the articulation of desire and its transmutation into love. To reduce mystical
passion to some pent-up sexual energy is to miss the point entirely. It is to mistake
sublimation for repression. If anything, what seems to mark texts like The Mirror is an
experience of passivity and an emphasis on submission. The movement of the Free
Spirit is not about doing what you want. On the contrary, it is about the training and
submission of free will in order to recover a condition of commonality that overcomes
it, namely love.

Indeed, the emphasis on submission and quietism that one finds in Porete and others
seems more likely to lead to chastity than license. Unrestrained erotic exuberance would
simply be the false exercise of the will. The point of Poretes seven-state itinerary is the
disciplining of the self all the way to its extinction in an experience of love that
annihilates it. To my mind, the Movement of the Free Spirit finds a greater echo in the
chastity of groups like the Shakers than the exhaustive and exhausting cataloguing of
sexual excesses listed that took place in the Chateau de Silling in the Marquis de Sades
120 Days of Sodom.

Do not kill others, only yourself

There is no doubt that the Movement of the Free Spirit is deeply antinomian, refusing
the metaphysical, moral, legislative and political authority of both church and state. As
such, it constituted a clandestine and subversive movement of resistance. The earliest
appearance of the many alleged heresies linked to the Free Spirit comes from an
investigation held in Germany in the 1260s. The first of the accusations is extremely
revealing, To make small assemblies and to teach in secret is not contrary to faith but is
contrary to the evangelical way of life Note the emphasis on size and secrecy here.
The great threat of the Movement of the Free Spirit was a secret network of small
activist groups linked together by powerful bonds of solidarity and love. It was also a
highly mobile network and what seems to have constantly worried the Church was the

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itinerant nature of the Beguines and Beghards and the way in which they moved from
town to town and state to state. In addition, the rallying cry of these mendicants was
Brod durch Gott, bread for the sake of God and they preached, as did the Franciscan
Spirituals, a doctrine of the poverty of Christ. As William Cornelius is reported to have
said in the mid-13th Century, No rich man can be saved, and all the rich are miserly.
The point is not lost on Cohn who writes that, at its height, the Movement of the Free
Spirit, had become an invisible empire held together by powerful emotional bonds.
Devoted to undermining the power of church and state, abolishing private property and
establishing what can only be described as an anarcho-communism based on the
annihilation of the self in the experience of the divine, the ruthlessness with which the
Movement was repeatedly crushed should come as no surprise.

What kind of assessment can we make of the Movement of the Free Spirit? Cohn sees
millenarianism as a constantly recurring and dangerous threat that is still very much
with us. What finds expression with the heresy of the Free Spirit is, he writes, an
affirmation of freedom so reckless and unqualified that it amounted to a total denial of
every kind of restraint and limitation(148). As such, the Free Spirit is a precursor of
what Cohn calls that bohemian intelligentsia that has plagued the 20th Century and
which has been living from the ideas expressed by Bakunin and Nietzsche in their
wilder moments. The Free Spirit was the most ambitious essay in total social
revolution(149), which finds its continuation on the extreme left and right alike.
Nietzsches Supermancertainly obsessed the imagination of many of the armed
bohemians who made the National-Socialist revolution; and many a present-day
exponent of world revolution owes more to Bakunin than to Marx.(149)
This is not the place to show either the erroneousness of such readings of Nietzsche and
Bakunin or the chronic limitation of such arguments by insinuation that allegedly
connect the Free Spirit to Nazism via Nietzsche. Lets just note that, as we saw with
Porete, the Free Spirit is not a reckless and unqualified assertion of freedom that
denies all restraint and limitation. On the contrary, Porete is arguing for a rigorous and
demanding discipline of the self where individual acts of arbitrary freedom are directed
outside themselves to a divine source which is the basis for commonality. To say it once
again, the Free Spirit is not about doing what you want. Neither is it amoralistic; rather,
it is a stringent and demanding ethical disciplining of the self.

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Cohn uses the standard depth psychology talk of the 1950s and 60s to diagnose the
malady that drives the desire for mystical anarchism. He explains mysticism
aetiologically as a profound introversion of gigantic parental images(176). This is
both a defence against reality and a reactivation of the distorting images of infancy.
Thereafter, two possibilities are possible: either the mystic emerges from the process of
introversion successfully, as a more integrated personality, or he introjects these
images unsuccessfully and emerges as a nihilistic megalomaniac. Cohn catalogues the
repeated occurrence of such megalomaniacs in great historical detail and there is no
denying the existence of forms of sophism, obscurantism and charlatanry that are allied
to the Movement of the Free Spirit. However, I am not only suspicious of the validity of
such aetiological explanations, but would also want to interrogate the normative
presupposition that such explanations invoke for the emergence of phenomena like
mysticism. Cohn simply assumes that integrated personality is an unquestioned good,
along with related ideas of reinforcing the ego and encouraging it to adapt to reality.
What Porete is describing is what we might call a creative disintegration of the ego, an
undermining of its authority which allows a new form of subjectivity to stand in the
place where the old self was. Rather than seeing Porete as a retreat to some alleged
illusory infantile state, the process of the Souls annihilation might be seen as the selfs
maturation and mutation where it is no longer organized around the individual and his
self-regarding acts of will. Rather than integrating some given personality, what Porete
is describing is the emergence of a new form of subjectivity, a transformation of the self
through the act of love.

As we saw above, John Gray makes explicit what is implicit in Cohns approach. He
extends the condemnation of groups like the Free Spirit to any and all utopian
movements. The burden of a book like Black Mass is to show the continued malign
presence of millenarian, apocalyptic politics in the contemporary world. What is
particularly powerful in Grays approach is the manner in which he extends Cohns
diagnosis to the neo-conservative millenarianism of the Bush administration, gleefully
embraced by Blair, for whom the clichs of the hour have always been eternal verities.
However, as I argued in detail above, the critique of utopianism does not vindicate
Grays call for political realism, which draws on his naturalization of the concept of
original sin. Relatedly, it is something of an understatement to suggest that Carl Schmitt

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would have been out of sympathy with both the theology and politics of mystical
anarchism. Im sure Schmitt would have happily served as Poretes inquisitor and
probably personally lit the fire that consumed her and her books.

A very different take on these matters can be found in Raoul Vaneigems The
Movement of the Free Spirit from 1986. In many ways, Vaneigem unwittingly confirms
all of Cohns worst fears: he offers a vigorous defence of the Movement of the Free
Spirit as a precursor to the insurrectional movements of the 1960s such as the
Situationist International, in which Vaneigems writings played such a hugely
influential role. He writes of the Free Spirit,
The spring has never dried up; it gushes from the fissures of history, bursting through
the earth at the slightest shift of the mercantile terrain.(94)
In Debords distopian vision of the society of the spectacle where all human relations
are governed by exchange - the dictatorship of a commodity system that Vaneigem
always compares to the negativity of death - the Free Spirit is an emancipatory
movement that operates in the name of life, bodily pleasures and untrammeled freedom.
Vaneigem reinterprets the Free Spirits insistence on poverty of spirit as the basis for a
critique of the market system where life is reduced to purposeless productivity and life-
denying work. As such, the most radical element in the Movement of the Free Spirit, for
Vaneigem, was an alchemy of individual fulfillment where the cultivation of a state of
perfection allowed the creation of a space where the economys hold over individuals
was relinquished. Thus, the Free Spirits emphasis on love is the sole alternative to
market society(254). Wrapped around a compelling and extended documentation of the
Movement of the Free Spirit, Vaneigem argues for what he calls an alchemy of the
self based on unfettered enjoyment and bodily pleasures. He cites the proposition of
Hippolytus of Rome, The promiscuity of men and women, that is the true communion.
Vaneigem advances an opposition between the Free Spirit and the Holy Spirit, where
the latter is identified with God and the former with his denial. Vaneigem is therefore
skeptical of Poretes position in The Mirror, arguing that self-deification is too
dependant on a repressive, authoritarian idea of God.(246) Although Vaneigem borrows
Poretes idea of the refinement of love, which is allegedly the title of one of her lost
books, he finds her approach too ascetic and intellectualized. Vaneigem defends an
individualistic hedonism based not on intellect but a flux of passions.(195) It has a
stronger affinity with Fouriers utopianism of passionate attraction filled with

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phalansteries of free love and leisure than the sort of self-annihilation found in Porete.
To my mind, something much more interesting than Vaneigem can be found in Gustav
Landauer, the German anarcho-socialist who exerted such influence over Buber,
Scholem and the young Benjamin (see Loewy article). In his Anarchic Thoughts on
Anarchism(1901), Landauer is writing in the context of the anarchist politics of
assassination that had seen the killing of U.S. President William McKinley in 1901,
itself based on the murder of King Umberto I of Italy the previous year. Both
perpetrators identified themselves as anarchists. Landauer asks, what has the killing
of people to do with anarchism, a theory striving for a society without government and
authoritarian coercion, a movement against the state and legalized violence? The
answer is clear, Nothing at all. Landauer argues that all forms of violence are despotic
and anarchism entails non-violence. If anarchists resort to violence, then they are no
better than the tyrants whom they claim to oppose. Anarchism is not a matter of armed
revolt or military attack, it is a matter of how one lives. Its concern is with, a new
people arising from humble beginnings in small communities that form in the midst of
the old. This is what Landauer intriguingly calls inward colonization.

Yet, how is such an inward colonization possible? Landauers response is singular and
draws us back to the idea of self-annihilation. He writes, Whoever kills, dies. Those
who want to create life must also embrace it and be reborn from within. But how can
such a rebirth take place? It can only happen by killing oneself, in the mystical
sense, in order to be reborn after having descended into the depths of their soul. He
goes on, Only those who have journeyed through their own selves and waded deep in
their own blood can help to create the new world without interfering in the lives of
others. Landauer insists that such a position does not imply quietism or resignation. On
the contrary, he writes that one acts with others, but he adds that, none of this will
really bring us forward if it is not based on a new spirit won by conquest of ones inner
self. He continues,
It is not enough for us to reject conditions and institutions; we have to reject ourselves.
Do not kill others, only yourself: such will be the maxim of those who accept the
challenge to create their own chaos in order to discover their most authentic and
precious inner being and to become mystically one with the world.
Although talk of authenticity and precious inner being leaves me somewhat cold, what
is fascinating here is the connection between the idea of self-annihilation and

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anarchism. The condition of possibility for a life of cooperation and solidarity with
others is a subjective transformation, a self-killing that renounces the killing of others.
For Landauer, it is not a matter of anarchism participating in the usual party politics,
systemic violence and cold rationalism of the state. It is a rather a question of
individuals breaking with the states authority and uniting together in new forms of life.
Talk of inward colonization gives a new twist to Cohns idea of the Movement of the
Free Spirit as an invisible empire. It is a question of the creation of new forms of life
at a distance from the order of the state - which is the order of visibility - and cultivating
largely invisible commonalities, what Landauer calls anarchys dark deep dream.
Perhaps this killing of the self in an ecstatic mystical experience is close to what
Bataille called sovereignty, and which for him was constantly linked with his
experimentation with different forms of small-scale, communal group collaborations,
particularly in the 1930s and 40s, from Contre Attaque, the Collge de Sociologie and
the Collge Socratique, through to the more mysterious Acphale.

The Risk of Abstraction

We are living through a long anti-1960s. The various experiments in communal living
and collective existence that defined that period seem to us either quaintly pass,
laughably unrealistic or dangerously misguided. We now know better than to try and
bring heaven crashing down to earth and construct concrete utopias. To that extent,
despite our occasional and transient enthusiasms, we are all political realists; indeed
most of us are passive nihilists and cynics. This is why we still require a belief in
something like original sin. Without the conviction that the human condition is
essentially flawed and dangerously rapacious, we would have no way of justifying our
disappointment.

It is indeed true that those utopian political movements of the 1960s, like the
Situationist International, where an echo of the Movement of the Free Spirit could be
heard, led to various forms of disillusionment, disintegration and, in extreme cases,
disaster. Experiments in the collective ownership of property or in communal living
based on sexual freedom without the repressive institution of the family, or indeed R.D.
Laings experimental communal asylums with no distinction between the so-called mad

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and the sane seem like distant whimsical cultural memories captured in dog-eared,
yellowed paperbacks and grainy, poor quality film. It is a world that we struggle to
understand. Perhaps such communal experiments were too pure and overfull of
righteous conviction. Perhaps they were, in a word, too moralistic to ever endure.
Perhaps such experiments were doomed because of what we might call a politics of
abstraction, in the sense of being overly attached to an idea at the expense of a frontal
denial of reality.

At their most extreme, say in the activities of the Weather Underground, the Red Army
Faction and the Red Brigades in the 1970s, the moral certitude of the closed and pure
community becomes fatally linked to redemptive, cleansing violence. Terror becomes
the means to bring about end of virtue. The death of individuals is but a speck on the
vast heroic canvas of the class struggle. This culminated in a politics of violence where
acts of abduction, kidnapping, hijacking and assassination were justified through an
attachment to a set of ideas. As a character in Jean-Luc Godards Notre Musique
remarks, To kill a human being in order to defend an idea is not to defend an idea, it is
to kill a human being. Perhaps such groups were too attached to the idea of immediacy,
the propaganda of the violent deed as the impatient attempt to storm the heavens.
Perhaps such experiments lacked an understanding of politics as a constant and concrete
process of mediation between a subjective ethical commitment based on a general
principle, for example the equality of all, and the experience of local organization that
builds fronts and alliances between disparate groups with often conflicting sets of
interests. By definition, such a process of mediation is never pure.

Perhaps such utopian experiments in community only live on in the institutionally


sanctioned spaces of the contemporary art world. One thinks of projects like
LAssociation des Temps Librs (1995), or Utopia Station (2003) and many other
examples, somewhat fossilized in a recent show at the Guggenheim in New York,
Theanyspacewhatever. In the work of artists like Philippe Parreno and Liam Gillick or
curators like Hans-Ulrich Obrist, there is a deeply-felt Situationist nostalgia for ideas of
collectivity, action, self-management, collaboration and indeed the idea of the group as
such. In such art practice, which Nicolas Bourriaud has successfully branded as
relational, art is the acting out of a situation in order to see if, in Obrists words,
something like a collective intelligence might exist. As Gillick notes, Maybe it would

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be better if we worked in groups of three. Of course, the problem with such
experiments is twofold: on the one hand, they are only enabled and legitimated through
the cultural institutions of the art world and thus utterly enmeshed in the circuits of
commodification and spectacle that they seek to subvert; and, on the other hand, the
dominant mode for approaching an experience of the communal is through the strategy
of reenactment. One doesnt engage in a bank heist, one reenacts Patty Hearsts
adventures with the Symbionese Liberation Army in a warehouse in Brooklyn, or
whatever. Situationist dtournement is replayed as obsessively planned reenactment.
Fascinating as I find such experiments and the work of the artists involved, one suspects
what we might call a mannerist Situationism, where the old problem of recuperation
does not even apply because such art is completely co-opted by the socio-economic
system which provides its life-blood.

Perhaps we are witnessing something related to this in recent events in France


surrounding the arrest and detention of the so-called Tarnac Nine on 11th November
2008. As part of Sarkozys reactionary politics of fear (itself based on an overwhelming
fear of disorder), a number of activists who had been formerly associated with the group
Tiqqun were arrested in rural, central France by a force of 150 anti-terrorist police,
helicopters and attendant media. They were living communally in the small village of
Tarnac in the Corrze district of the Massif Central. Apparently a number of the groups
members had bought a small farmhouse and ran a cooperative grocery store and were
engaged in such dangerous activities as running a local film club, planting carrots and
delivering food to the elderly. With surprising juridical imagination, they were charged
with pre-terrorism, an accusation linked to acts of sabotage on Frances TGV rail
system. The basis for this thought-crime was a passage from Linsurrection qui vient
from 2007, a wonderfully dystopian diagnosis of contemporary society and a
compelling strategy to resist it. The final pages of Linsurrection advocate acts of
sabotage against the transport networks of the social machine and ask the question,
How could a TGV line or an electrical network be rendered useless?(p.101) Two of
the alleged pre-terrorists, Julien Coupat and Yldune Lvy, are still in jail and others
have been charged with a terrorist undertaking that carries a prison sentence of 20
years. Such is the repressive and reactionary force of the state, just in case anyone had
forgotten. As the authors of Linsurrection remind us, Governing has never been
anything but pushing back by a thousand subterfuges the moment when the crowd will

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hang you.(p.83)
Linsurrection qui vient has powerful echoes of the Situationist International and some
of the other communist heresies we have examined. The authorship of Linsurrection is
attributed to La Comit Invisible and the insurrectional strategy of the group turns
around the question of invisibility. It is a question of learning how to become
imperceptible, of regaining the taste for anonymity and not exposing and losing
oneself in the order of visibility, which is always controlled by the police and the state.
The authors of Linsurrection argue for the proliferation of zones of opacity, anonymous
spaces where communes might be formed. The book ends with the slogan, All power
to the communes (Tout le pouvoir aux communes). In a nod to Blanchot, these
communes are described as inoperative or dsuvre, as refusing the capitalist
tyranny of work. In a related text simply entitled Call, they seek to establish a series of
foci of desertion, of secession poles, of rallying points. For the runaways. For those who
leave. A set of places to take shelter from the control of a civilization that is headed for
the abyss. A strategy of sabotage, blockade and what is called the human strike is
proposed in order to weaken still further our doomed civilization. An opposition
between the city and the country is constantly reiterated, and it is clear that construction
of zones of opacity is better suited to rural life than the policed space of surveillance of
the modern metropolis. Linsurrection is compelling, exhilarating, and deeply lyrical
text that sets off all sorts of historical echoes with movements like the Free Spirit: the
emphases on secrecy, invisibility and itinerancy, on small scale communal experiments
in living, on the cultivation of poverty, radical mendicancy and the refusal of work. But
the double program of sabotage, on the one hand, and secession from civilization, on the
other, risks remaining trapped within the politics of abstraction identified above. In this
fascinatingly creative reenactment of the Situationist gesture, what is missed is a
thinking of political mediation where groups like the Invisible Committee would be able
to link up and become concretized in relation to multiple and conflicting sites of
struggle. We need a richer political cartography than the opposition between the city
and the country. Tempting as it is, sabotage combined with secession from civilization
smells of the moralism we detected above.

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Conclusion The Politics of Love

But what follows from this? Are we to conclude with John Gray that the utopian
impulse in political thinking is simply the residue of a dangerous political theology that
we are much better off without? Is the upshot of the critique of mystical anarchism that
we should be resigned in the face of the worlds violent inequality and update a belief in
original sin with a reassuringly miserabilistic Darwinism? Should we reconcile
ourselves to the options of political realism, authoritarianism or liberalism? Should we
simply renounce the utopian impulse in our personal and political thinking?

If so, then the consequence is clear: we are stuck with the way things are, or possibly
with something even worse than the way things are. To abandon the utopian impulse in
thinking is to imprison ourselves within the world as it is and to give up once and for
the prospect that another world is possible, however small, fleeting and compromised
such a world might be. In the political circumstances that presently surround us in the
West, to abandon the utopian impulse in political thinking is to resign oneself to liberal
democracy which, as we showed above, is the rule of the rule, the reign of law which
renders impotent anything that would break with law: the miraculous, the moment of
the event, the break with the situation in the name of the common.

Let me return for a last time to mystical anarchism and to the question of self-
deification. Defending the idea of becoming God might be seen as going a little far, I
agree. To embrace such mysticism would be to fall prey to what Badiou calls in his
book on St. Paul the obscurantist discourse of glorification. In terms of the Lacanian
schema of the four discourses that he borrows (master, university, hysteric, analyst), the
mystic is identified with the discourse of the hysteric and contrasted with the anti-
obscurantist Christian position that Badiou identifies with the discourse of the analyst.
Badiou draws a line between St Pauls declaration of the Christ-event, what he calls an
ethical dimension of anti-obscurantism, and the mystical discourse of identity with the
divine, the ravished subjectivity of someone like Porete. (p.51-52)

Yet, to acquiesce in such a conclusion would be to miss something vital about mystical
anarchism, what I want to call, in closing, its politics of love. What I find most
compelling in Porete is the idea of love as an act of absolute spiritual daring that

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eviscerates the old self in order that something new can come into being. In Anne
Carsons words, love dares the self to leave itself behind, to enter into poverty and
engage with its own annihilation: to hew and hack away at oneself in order to make a
space that is large enough for love to enter. What is being attempted by Porete and
perhaps it is only the attempt which matters here, not some theophanic outcome is an
act of absolute daring, not for some nihilistic end, but in order to open what we might
call the immortal dimension of the subject. The only proof of immortality is the act of
love, the daring that attempts to extend beyond oneself by annihilating oneself, to
project onto something that exceeds ones powers of projection. To love is to give what
one does not have and to receive that over which one has no power. As we saw in
Landauer, the point is not to kill others, but to kill oneself in order that a transformed
relation to others becomes possible, some new way of conceiving the common and
being with others. Anarchism can only begin with an act of inward colonization, the act
of love that demands a transformation of the self. Finally - and very simply anarchism
is not a question for the future, it is a matter of how one lives now.

Is such a thing conceivable and practicable without the moralism, purism, immediacy,
and the righteously self-enclosed certainty of previous experiments? To be honest, I
dont know.

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APPENDIX III: A TASTE OF FAITH I (THE HELL WITHIN) BY EDIA CONNOLE
& SCOTT WILSON (2012)

Rationale for March 25th 2012 Food Thing event held in conjunction with
Simon Critchley and Clodagh Emoes Mystical Anarchism at Block T, Dublin.

The more I enter, the more I find, and the more I find the more I seek of Thee. Thou art
the Food that never satiates, for when the soul is satiated in Thine abyss it is not
satiated, but ever continues to hunger and thirst for Thee. Catherine of Sienna, Dialogo
Because Jesus had fed the faithful not merely as servant and waiter, preparer and
multiplier of loaves and fishes, but as the very bread and wine itself, to eat was a
powerful proverb. It meant to consume, to assimilate, to become God. Caroline Walker
Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval
Women In the anguish or repose or the madness of love, The heart of each devours the
others heart, As he who is Love itself showed us, When he gave us himself to eat ...
lovess most intimate union Is through eating, tasting, and seeing interiorly. Hadewijch
of Brabant, Letters Taste from Latin gustus, described as the sensation of flavour
perceived in the mouth and throat on contact with a substance, and as the faculty of
perceiving this quality, is genealogically, if not etymologically linked to test, insofar
as the act of tasting is also one of testing, of trying or testing the flavour of
something by taking a small portion into the mouth, as a sample, on the one hand, and
of permitting a brief experience of something, conveying its basic character, on the
other. To the extent that this dyad is one of discerning a persons liking or disliking for
particular flavours and characters, taste is also genealogically linked to morality, to
that which we conceive as good or bad. A persons taste, reflects their conformity or
failure to conform with generally held views concerning what is offensive or palatable,
with the fact that this or that joke is deemed to be in good or bad taste. Ultimately then,
when the very value of truth is called into question, taste is genealogically linked to
faith, insofar as the genesis of the concept god is revealed through a genealogy of
morality; in fact, in what are commonly referred to as dirty jokes this genealogy
reveals itself ex post facto - good and bad are derived from pure and impure and
from the outset simply referred to a persons cleanliness. In distinction, the impure, dirty,
distasteful, and disgusting, from Latin dis- (expressing reversal) and gustus (taste), had
a privileged relation to faith for the medieval mystics. Indeed, Catherine of Sienna

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found cleanliness so incompatible with charity, she deliberately drank off a bowl of
suppurative matter; the consumption of pus, the perfect corrective for her imperfect
piety. And just as Angela of Folignio drank the very water with which she had washed
the feet of lepers, savouring a scab of fetid flesh as if it were the Eucharist, for Marie
Alacoque, the pungent smell of premodern cheese made its revolting ingestion the most
burdensome way to test her faith, and prove her love for God. Cheese, it is claimed, has
always provoked uncontrollable revulsion and passionate devotion, precisely because it
belongs, in psychoanalytic terms, on the other side of the border - colour, concluded
Johann Lotichus, in his 1643 De casei neguitta (On the vileness of cheese), is the only
difference between cheese and excrement - and for Mystical Christendom, ingestion of
such abjection of self was turned into the ultimate act of humility; from Latin humilitas,
a noun intending humble but also grounded or low, since it derives from humus - a
homonym of the Levantine Arab dish - meaning of the earth, or ground, and
connected with notions of transcendent unity with the universe or the divine, and of
egolessness: of liberation, abandonment and annihilation of the soul, who stands in
complete nakedness before God (Mazzoni, 2005, 134; 135; Critchley, 2012, 130).
Central to this mysticism of self-abandonment, was food, taste, and an economy of
masochism. Prodigious fasting [Inedia prodigiosa or, Anorexia Mirabilis, literally
meaning miraculous lack of appetite], the renunciation of ordinary food in favour of
the abject and disgusting, or induced vomiting - in the case of Catherine of Sienna, with
a stalke of fynel or an oer inge at she put in to hir stomake, - were used to hack
and hew at the self to create a space, or widen the place, as Margueritte Porete puts it,
in which Love will want to be (Vander Veen, 2007, 118; Critchley, 2012, 125). But
such Love is not easy. The modern mystic Therese of Liseux, who lay dying, bleeding
from her intestines and unable to keep even water down, was tormented by the thought
of banquets, her near contemporary Gemma Galgani too, dreamed of food; she asked
her director, Father Germano, in a letter: Are you happy that I ask Jesus the grace to
not let me taste, for as long as I live, any flavor in any food? Daddy, this grace is
necessary to me, she says, and assures her spiritual father, in return for her lack of
taste , the certainty of her ability to keep food down, to not throw it all up [the object
of her disgust] anymore (Mazzoni, 2005, 162). Modern historians have sometimes
thought these womens stories to contain the first documentable cases of anorexia
nervosa. Certainly, it is not difficult to think of it in the life of Gemma Galgani, given
the timeliness of the diagnosis. An ecstatic, the first stigmatic and Saint of the

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twentieth-century, Gemmas brief life (1878 - 1903) bore witness to the coinage of the
term anorexia nervosa, as it did to that of psychoanalysis, and of sweets,
incidentally; which, through the emergence of a mass consumer culture, were now
industrialized commodities available to the poor (2005, 162-163). And Gemma herself
was not only partial to sweets, but also to the kind of neurotic behaviour that might
allow us to characterise her as mentally, as well as physically and socially, ill (2005,
168). The references to food in Gemmas writing - though mostly to say that she cannot
eat, that God will not allow her to eat, or to only hold down food occasionally - testify
to a certain return of the repressed, in psychoanalytic terms: chocolate, wine, coffee,
mints, all the food given up in fast and abstinence reappears in the details of her
autobiography (2005, 165). Christina Mazzoni tells us she speaks of treats and speaks
of them with delight, with unsuspected indulgence [in fact] - perhaps because they
remind her of Jesus own dolcezza, that sweetness that is [not only] always on her lips
[but on the lips of every Christian mystic] (2005, 168). One imagines Gemma,
surrounded by the intricate confections of the late-nineteenth century, gorging and
vomiting, luxuriating in sweets until sweets and body are almost synonymous. Then one
thinks of her appeal to Christ to not let her taste any flavour in any food anymore ( I
thank you, Jesus, for letting me taste this sweetness; but I am ready to be deprived of it
forever, forever), such an appeal now seems to stem from a bodily pathology, dictated
by self-destructive individualistic mental processes; one thinks, indeed, of anorexia or
even bulimia nervosa (2005 170) . And though Gemma Galganis relationship with food
is not exemplary, it would also be misleading to reduce its spiritual complexity to an
emotional disorder characterised by an obsessive desire to lose weight. As Mazzoni
notes,Gemma places herself, and readers familiar with the history of spirituality can
also easily place her, in a genealogical line of Christian holy fasting [or Holy Anorexia,
as Rudolph Bell calls it] that in turn had pre-Christian roots in fasting as an expression
and exorcism of pain, as a purification of the soul that aids contact with the divine, as a
philosophical choice indicating the liberation of the soul from the body, a return to the
souls original purity, and ultimately the refusal of any fleshly bond (2005, 168). Like
Mazzoni, Caroline Walker Bynum brackets (to use a phenomenological turn of
phrase) questions of cause - as she does
modern problems and food obsessions - in her encounter with Christian mysticism. She
is similarly only interested in what Christian mystics experienced, and while retaining a
historians skepticism about all evidence, she, also, as a historian, prefers to start her

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study of the past with what people in the past said themselves (1987, 8). The
philosopher Simon Critchley has drawn on Bynums work concomitantly with that of
Elizabeth Spearing to show, through his exposition of Mystical Anarchism, how the
economy of masochism encountered in Christian mysticism, while more characteristic
of women than men, stems not from some bodily pathology or ego-psychology but
from the mutilation of Christs body in the Passion [which] seems to inspire an echo
among female mystics at the level of the body (2012, 130 - 140). As Bynum has
convincingly shown, through her lengthy explorations of the analogies in late medieval
theology, that suggest woman is to man as matter is to spirit: ... woman or the
feminine symbolizes the physical, lustful, material, appetitive part of human nature,
whereas man symbolizes the spiritual, rational, or mental ... Ancient scientists had
argued frequently that at conception, woman contributes the stuff (or physical nature) of
the foetus, man the soul or form. Patristic exegetes had regularly seen woman (or Eve)
as representing the appetites, man (or Adam) as representing the soul or intellect (1987,
262). While medieval male theologians used womens association with the appetites to
denigrate their fleshly weakness, it also seems to have been taken up, almost
unwittingly, by contemporary women mystics, who redeemed the concept by further
associating themselves with Christs physical incarnate humanity; as Bynum explains,
both men and women ... may at some almost unconscious level have felt that woman's
suffering was her way of fusing with Christ because Christ's suffering flesh was
woman (1987, 261). Accordingly, these analogies had been presented in the writings
of Hildegard of Bingen, in the twelfth-century, who had explicitly advanced the
opinion that man signifies the divinity of the Son of God, and woman his humanity,
who argued from an idea rooted in a fundamental implication of the virgin birth: Christ
having no human father must have derived his fleshly nature directly from Mary; in
sum, then, as Brian C. Vander Veen notes, in his Doctoral thesis on THE VITAE OF
BODLEIAN LIBRARY (2007), Whereas men expressed Christ qua God through the
intellectual activity of preaching and teaching, holy women could express Christ qua
man through their very physical identification with his suffering humanity... [because]
the fleshly humanity whose suffering redeemed the world was female flesh (2007, 84).
Sustained fasting, subsistence on the sacrament solely or, in conjunction with a diet that
demonstrated extreme abstemiousness; as in the case of Marie Alacoque - dirty laundry-
water, mouldy bread, rotten fruits and excrement (she described in her autobiography
the ecstasy she experienced as she filled her mouth with the faeces of a sick man), or

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Catherine of Sienna, who, even with such meagre subsistence - a diet of olde and
corrupte cheese, the juice of grapes, or the heads and tails of eels - would induce
vomiting, with such violence, bitterness and peyne, in fact, quykke blode would
come oute of hir moup. This self emptying, that is, as Critchley notes, a stringent and
demanding ethical disciplining of the self all the way to its nihilation - as in the case of
Mary of Oignes, who starved herself to death until her spine was stuck to her
stomach - is chosen in a context of self-giving where its figural value (clothes
sometimes stood in for the self - as in the case of Angela of Folignio, who, in an
exquisitely Franciscan gesture, stripped off all her clothes in order to follow naked, the
naked and crucified Christ or, on another occasion, in order to exchange them for food
for the poor, suffering and afflicted, so that she may, out of little or nothing, out of
herself, like Christ once did, multiply loaves and fishes to feed the hungry) lies in the
mystics imitation of Christ to form a total sacrifice that divinizes even as it annihilates
(2012, 132; 2005, 99). The graphic we have devised to over-arch this TOF project - a
digitally rendered linocut of a painting by William Hogarth, of one Francis Mathew
Schutz (third cousin to the Prince of Wales) in his bed, palefaced and vomiting into a
piss-pot - serves to illustrate this. (As the story goes) Norwich castle Museum in
England, currently holds in its collection a painting by Hogarth of Schutz in his bed,
hunched over and pallid, puking into a piss-pot, as we said. Behind the figure of Schutz,
there is a quote from Horace inscribed above a lyre that hangs on the wall - the lyre,
incidentally, is the instrument the poet symbolically hung up when he stopped playing
the field. The quote reads: Vixi poellis nuper idoneous (Not long ago I kept it in good
order for the girls). A parody of the sickbed portrait, the painting was commissioned by
Schutzs new wife, and was intended to remind Schutz why he had settled-down, by
filling him with disgust for his debauched days. Evidently, Schultz heirs didnt want to
be similarly reminded, and following his death in 1779, his daughter had the piss-pot
and vomit painted out. In place of his spewing, Schultz appeared to be reading a
newspaper in bed, at a rather awkward angle - hunched over as though in need of his
glasses. It was only in the 1990s when the painting was restored to its former state that
the prohibition was revealed and followed up by critics such as Christopher Turner who,
in writing a column for Cabinet that investigates the cultural significance of detritus,
noted how this desire to substitute words for vomit, logos for disgust, was more than a
simple act of Protestant censorship; it unwittingly struck at a knotty problem at the very
centre of the emerging philosophy of aesthetics, for which, the disgusting, unlike the

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ugly, the evil, the sublime, or even terrible, was deemed to be unrepresentable. There is
only one kind of ugliness which cannot be represented in accordance with nature
without destroying all aesthetical satisfaction, and consequently artistic beauty, states
Kant in his Critique of Judgement (1790), viz., that which excites disgust (1951,155).
He continues, For in this singular sensation, which rests on mere imagination the object
is represented as it were obtruding itself for our enjoyment while we strive against it
with all our might. And the artistic representation of the object is no longer
distinguished from the nature of the object itself in our sensation, and thus it is
impossible that it can be regarded as beautiful (1951, 155). It is, therefore, no longer a
question of one of those negative values that art can represent and thereby idealize, as
Derrida notes: The absolute excluded [lexclu absolu] does not allow itself even to be
granted thestatus of an object of negative pleasure or of ugliness redeemed by
representation. It is unrepresentable (1981, 21). And yet, Kant does speak of a certain
representation regarding it. The key here, as Derrida suggests, is in Kants passage
above, in which vomit as the object... represented as it were obtruding itself for our
enjoyment is linked by Kant to jouissance, if not pleasure; it forces pleasure, it even
represents the very thing that forces us to enjoy in spite of ourselves, and through
which, we find traces of that jouissance inscribed in the en corps [in and of the body,
but also a homonym of encore, more!] to which mysticism testifies - the en plus
(excess) of the en corps. It is this dimension of ecstasy, as Critchley notes after Lacan,
following the line of a transgressive desire into its askesis, that we can call love (2012,
140). Through our culinary curation/assemblage, we have put together a taste/test in
which we have faith that something or rather some new experience may emerge that is
anarchic in the sense that it is not subject to any law - including the law of taste (what
we see, essentially, as a fundamentally phallogocentric philosophy of determinatedness)
and cannot be predicted. Our methodology is formlessness. Perhaps God will be
tasted as an outcome of the test, perhaps vomit, these are possibilities. Perhaps nothing.
Or perhaps something else entirely about which we know nothing other than it will have
been tasted as a retroactive effect of the test. This is the very path we sought at the
beginning when presenting you with, in Lacans terms, these objets a. Regarding ones
[culinary] partner, Lacan nearly wrote in Seminar XX, love can only actualize what, in
a sort of poetic flight, ... I called courage, a taste that is also a test of faith (144).

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